By Beatrice Batamuliza
& Florence Mutesi
Traditional African women and Rwandans in particular were known for their prolonged breastfeeding periods. Some mothers could breastfeed their babies up to three to four years.
These mothers used to enjoy their motherhood and would do all it takes to give their children the best. Their pride would be in providing that natural food to the baby up to when they regarded it as right time to wean their babies until they took on other foods.
The Western world had almost similar understanding of baby care and the pre-industrial mothers took their time to breastfeed their babies until modernity set in and industries demanded markets for baby feeding products such as bottles nipples, bibs among others.
Unfortunately, the whole world is feeling the toll of industrialisation and communities are losing it all. The loss is so enormous that if nothing is done every one stands to share the blame of having future adults who never breastfed as babies.
However, today, mothers find breastfeeding demanding and formula milk fashionable. Every one claims to be too busy to have time for their babies. However, according to Beryl Wheeler, a lactation consultant at King Faisal Hospital, there is nothing wrong with feeding bottles but the problem is what kind of milk you fill it with.
She believes that there should be no reason for a mother to deny her baby the best it deserves, breast milk, unless otherwise.
Mother’s milk pumped
The breastfeeding consultant insists that even if mothers were too busy they should not fail to breastfeed their babies. There is a possibility of having the mother’s milk pumped and kept for the baby when the mother is away. This will benefit both the mother and the baby.
While outlining the advantages of breastfeeding, Beryl concluded that the community especially the health sector should have time to educate the mothers about the need to have their babies access the breast milk to ensure proper growth of a child.
Of the advantages of breastfeeding to babies, Beryl mentioned are; less risks to asthma, less risk to Eczema/allergies, less risks to infections of the ear, urinal system, less risk to obesity, natural way of child spacing ,well developed IQ ( Intelligence quotient) as compared to the formula fed one.
Mothers are also exposed to fewer risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, anaemia among others.
However, many mothers are ignorant about these benefits, had they been aware of the above mentioned advantages, no one would risk weaning her baby, not even husbands would advise their wives to do so.
Savella Mutoni had her baby weaned at three months. This came about because she had a business to run that was so demanding, by 5:00 in the morning she would be out and retire after midnight on a daily basis. She could not find time to breastfeed her baby boy thus weaned him.
“My baby looks fat and healthy but he is always sick; of late he developed breathing complications where I have to abandon the business to take him to hospital,” she says.
Mutoni did not know that the problem could have emerged from the fact that the baby never got the necessary nutrients his body needed to develop the much needed immune system.
This therefore calls for collective efforts to have both parents educated about the need to exclusively breastfeed their babies up to when they can feed independently.
Do not wean early
According to lactation specialists, When mothers exclusively breastfeed, there should be no formula or cows’ milk in the baby’s diet for they tend to disrupt the baby’s digestion system which also disrupts the breastfeeding schedule.
Unfortunately many mothers rejoice at their children taking longer time without feeding than usual thinking the babies are satisfied and happy yet they have developed a digestion complication.
Mothers resent exclusive breastfeeding due to the fact that they have to all the time be with the baby to feed yet with formula or cows’ milk she has a chance to go to work or do other things.
However, mothers should take advantage of other alternatives that will still allow mothers to, in all circumstances, breastfeed their babies.
For example, a mother can express (pump) breast milk and keep it in a fridge for the baby to feed in her absence. If frozen, breast milk can last for 48hours.
For the pump machines which are not common in Rwanda, Beryl said that the hospital will soon avail those machines for sale. Others can send for them in neighbouring countries. Remember it is giving your baby the best you can at all costs.
To be effective husbands and fathers, they should be supportive in the exercise and ensure that the breastfeeding mother and baby have the best they deserve during this important period in the child development.
Berly advises governments to have laws that consider breastfeeding mothers if we are to have a healthy generation. Companies and organisations should allow breast feeding mothers time to feed their babies or provide private rooms to do the milk pumping or feed babies if they can have them brought at their places of work.