Third Eye

Nutrition lays foundation for a child’s future health

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022 00:23 | By
Nutrition lays foundation for a child’s future health
Children eating food. PHOTO/Courtesy/

This week as we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week it’s important to mention that, breastfeeding is a gold standard for infants as it meets all the health needs and requirements necessary for the optimal growth and development of a baby. It is the most effective preventive measure for an infant’s health as it contains the necessary nutrients that are required to boost its immunity. It is considered a critical measure to attaining optimum health outcomes for children and promotes their survival.

This year’s breastfeeding theme focuses on strengthening the capacity of actors that have to protect, promote and support breastfeeding across the different levels of society. Article 43(1)(c) of the Constitution provides that, every child has a right to basic nutrition. In this context, it’s important to note that an infant is supposed to be on breastfeeding alone for the first 180 days before being weaned to other foods. Thus working mothers must be supported and protected to ensure they breastfeed exclusively during the 180 days.

The Health Act came in handy to support working mothers whereby Section 71 provides for the establishment and equipping of a lactation room by all employers. Section 72 provides for the granting of nursing employees break intervals in addition to the regular times off for meals to breastfeed or express milk which would really assist the lactating working mothers to express the breastmilk which will be fed to the infants while they are working.

Breastfeeding is a cost-effective way of saving lives. It has a direct relationship to the reduction of under five mortalities and morbidity. Infants who are exclusively breastfed rarely get infections thus time which would have been lost by mothers visiting hospital is used at work, thereby increasing their productivity.

Productivity is social as well as economic. Support for breastfeeding encourages workers’ retention, improves employers’ image, lowers employers’ health and insurance costs, reduces the cost of recruitment and training of new workers, reduces turnover, and minimises absenteeism as a result of improved child and maternal health.

Breastfeeding should be a family affair and the father is an important team player in this. Studies show the involvement of the partner during breastfeeding counselling sessions in clinics helped in improving the rate of breastfeeding by a huge margin. It’s worth mentioning a back massage really helps in breastmilk letdown as it assists in stimulation of the hormones which are responsible for breastmilk production and let down, therefore making breastfeeding an easy affair for nursing mother.

Forget the social, personal and cultural factors that affect the attitude and behaviours of fathers during a mother’s lactating period. When the two have a positive attitude towards lactation, the mother is likely to breastfeed exclusively.

According to the lancet series, globally, the death of 823,000 children and 20,000 mothers could be averted through breastfeeding, along with savings of $300 billion.

The investment in a human being is best done during the first 1,000 days of life (between pregnancy and child’s second birthday), a period known as the window of opportunity. The nutrition and the well-being of the pregnant and the lactating mother are related to the optimal growth and development of the infant. Undernutrition during pregnancy and lactation could negatively affect the child, bringing about other complications.

Some of the benefits of breastfeeding include the prevention of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, improved birth spacing, protection against overweight and obesity later in life, lower infections in infants, improved brain maturation, fewer speech, and orthodontic problems as well as fewer instances of allergies, eczema and asthma.

The success of breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman. The promotion of breastfeeding is a collective societal responsibility and breastfeeding women should be protected by all means. Good nutrition for our children lays a foundation for health development and even prosperity for the next generation.

— The writer is chairman of the Nutrition Association of Kenya

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