Tomorrow (August 1) will mark the beginning of the breastfeeding week, which will be held under the theme, “Sustaining breastfeeding together”.
Breastfeeding remains an important element in nurturing a healthy child and this is why stakeholders strive to keep afloat campaigns that promote it.
In Rwanda, national celebrations will be held in September alongside other campaigns that generally promote maternal and child health care.
Dr Felix Sayinzoga, the head of maternal and child health at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, emphasises that breastfeeding is a very important aspect of nutrition.
He says the celebrations of this year’s Breastfeeding Week come at a time when they are working on updating the protocol on nutrition in general.
“Activities done in the week will mostly include programmes that will be aired through different media houses through which various sensitization campaigns will be made,” he adds.
Sayinzoga points out that regardless of the importance of breastfeeding, the practice seems to be declining and that this calls for more concerted efforts to revamp it.
Why the decline?
Dr Rachna Pande, a specialist in internal medicine, says in spite of so many advantages of breastfeeding, women are opting to use formula feeds.
She says some mothers have, due to factors such as lack of time and privacy, opted for bottle feeding.
“Most working mothers do not have time to breastfeed during working hours. This is because many offices do not have facilities for child care. Even if she carried the baby to the work place, there may not be enough privacy to breastfeed comfortably,” she says.
Dr Wilbur Bushara of Herna Medical Centre in Kigali stresses that indeed more women have opted for formula feed because of different factors which are both environmental and physiological.
Short maternal leaves from places of work are among the causes, he says. “The life style of modern day mothers is a challenge in some way and this can affect their time to exclusively breastfeed their babies.”
Bushara explains that physiological factors include stress and that this can lead to little breast milk production which may not meet the baby’s body requirements.
“Some women try to breastfeed especially those in rural areas, but most of them do not do it the right way. Women should know that a baby should take nothing else other than breast milk in the first six months,” says Sayinzoga.
He says not fulfilling this prerequisite is the root cause of issues like stunting in children.
Sayinzoga says most women find it hard to exclusively breastfeed because of different challenges but advises them use modern techniques, for example pumping breast milk and storing it in a bottle.
Sayinzoga says mothers should understand that regardless of how tight one’s schedule is; with the right planning their babies can have access to breast milk and all the benefits that come with breastfeeding.
“Nothing can replace breast milk; women should understand that it’s natural and designed for the baby. Formula milk should only be used as the last option for a mother who can’t breastfeed as a result of different causes,” he says.
Advantages of breastfeeding
Sayinzoga explains that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is very important because all vital nutrients are found in breast milk.
He says after six months, a baby can now be given supplements because at this point the baby is now growing and breast milk alone cannot be enough.
Supplements given to the baby ought to be healthy, otherwise they can also lead to cases of stunting, he says, adding that it’s always healthy for a child to breastfeed for at least two years.
Pande points out that being naturally adapted to the digestive system of the infant, breast milk is digested well and the chances of flatulence are less. It also provides antibodies to the baby to help him fight diseases.
“Putting baby on the breast, also gives a sense of love and warmth to the baby. It enhances the bonding between a mother and her child. Women who breast feed are protected from cancers of the breast, uterus and ovary later in life,” she says.
Formula feed does provide nutrients but does not provide antibodies. It is also not digested as easily as breast milk, hence more risk of flatulence and abdominal cramps in the baby after feeding, Pande notes.
“While breastfeeding a baby, the mother has to consume extra calories and also ensure intake of nutrients like iron and calcium. The demand for these is increased during lactation,” she says.
Bushara warns about the dangers of not breastfeeding which may directly or indirectly affect both or one of the parties.
He says breast engorgement should be avoided as it might lead to pus formation in the mother’s breast.
“Not breastfeeding reduces bonding between mother and the baby. The mother on the other hand may easily conceive again as exclusive breastfeeding is a form of family planning,” he adds.