There are countless benefits for mothers, children, families, employers and society – but there are many barriers. For example, many employers restrict the time workers can take off to feed their babies (both in a formal and informal environment), cultural beliefs can hinder a woman’s authority on the subject or bully them into not feeding in public and stress can lead to the cessation of milk production altogether.
Although I had been counselling women for many years, it took me having my own daughter to experience the importance of breastmilk in a special way. It was heartbreaking to see children in malnutrition clinics who were the same age as her, but who were far smaller and weaker. I have seen three-year olds unable to walk, talk or play because they have never had the right nutrition.
We counsel all family members; we have built child-friendly areas in markets and have roped in the men to take over when a child needs to be fed. We need to replicate this support everywhere. Young mothers hold the future in their bosom.
The first five years of a child’s life are the most important developmentally – and the rapid growth requires adequate food.
That food should come from the breast for the first six months and afterwards be complemented by the introduction of solids from the various food groups. We need to educate everyone, from a young age, to be comfortable around breastfeeding.
Babies do not feed according to a schedule, they will indicate when they are hungry and a mother must oblige – whether that be at home, work or on a bus.
I don’t know what possesses other human beings to dismiss this, with some labelling it shameful behaviour or employers considering it a dereliction of duty. This is food and the breast is a plate!
“Breastmilk makes the world healthier, smarter and more equal,” says Gerda Verburg, the United Nations Assistant Secretary General and coordinator for the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.
This is because babies who have been breastfed are 14 times less likely to die; breastmilk helps to prevent undernutrition and obesity as well as other diseases and protects mothers as well. It is also the most cost-effective way of providing the best nutrition.
ForAfrika works with the SUN movement, Global Nutrition Cluster and other partners in promoting breastfeeding and contributed to the content of this year’s Breastfeeding Week campaign under the theme “Step up for Breastfeeding – Educate and Support”.
It is especially important this year as the 65 member countries are currently focusing on safeguarding and advancing national nutrition efforts while dealing with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing global food and nutrition crisis.
A large and important part of ForAfrika’s work is the prevention of infant malnutrition – and the best way to do this is to educate and support not only mothers, but entire communities about the value of exclusive breastfeeding of a child for the first six months of its life.
I am fortunate to have an employer that not only supports staff to breastfeed but ForAfrika is constantly looking at ways of supporting the mothers we work with too.
As Verburg so rightly says: “Its value is underestimated and that is why every week should be breastfeeding week.”
Amanda Koech Otieno is Chief Programmes Officer at ForAfrika