Supporting nursing mothers
Josephine Munene, a Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Specialist says many mothers understand the slogan “Breast Is Best” because the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding to both baby and mother are well documented.
“Exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life helps a mother save money because breast milk is freely available, and she does not need to look for or buy additional food for the baby. Also, the high nutritional content of breast milk and the antibodies it provides increases the chances of a baby’s survival because it reduces the risk of developing diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, thus also reducing the money spent on health care and the time a mother has to take off work to look after her baby,” says Josephine.
The expert says in Kenya, the impact of breastfeeding on women’s productivity and employment was highlighted when Parliament approved the Health Act 2017, which included sections compelling employers to provide designated lactation spaces for working mothers and the additional time the mothers need to express breast milk.
“By doing so, productivity increases because the mother can focus on achieving her goals at work and, at the same time, providing the nutrition her baby needs to remain healthy. Additionally, employers should also create workplace breastfeeding policies that outline the support that employees can expect. If possible, they should also have regular sensitisation sessions led by lactation support professionals to teach the employees how to express breast milk and maintain their supply effectively,” she explains.
Partners play important roles in breastfeeding decisions. Research indicates that educating fathers about lactation significantly improved breastfeeding exclusivity and reduced the risk of problems. A father’s emotional support, responsiveness to needs and decisions, assistance with household and childcare tasks can also improve outcomes.
There are numerous ways family members can support breastfeeding, particularly when the mother is encountering problems, such as when the baby is learning to latch on and the mother is exhausted. Support can be emotional, showing appreciation for the breastfeeding and what it does for the baby. It can involve simply sitting together and enjoying the time. It can be practical, ensuring the environment is quiet and comfortable for breastfeeding. Family members can also help share tasks around the house.
In the past, new mums had support of the extended family and community—where they would all come together to help. They would do all the household chores and cook food meant to nourish her and boost her milk production. But in modern days, with diminishing family ties, fast life and increased workload, mothers are left at a disadvantage. It is even more challenging for single mothers who don’t have spousal support to rely on.
Josephine opines: “A breastfeeding mother should focus on eating a balanced meal that includes food from various food groups. It is essential to eat a combination of foods that provide the necessary macro and micronutrients and vitamins to replenish and maintain the levels that allow a mother to remain healthy after giving birth and breastfeeding without suffering any deficiencies.”