This month, Rwanda joined the rest of the world to celebrate the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW). Premised on the argument that breast milk is an ideal and balanced food for babies, the WBW campaign seeks to increase public awareness on the importance of appropriate feeding practices. Society for Family Health (SFH), a Non-Governmental Organisation concerned with Social Marketing and Behavioural Change Communication in various health aspects, in partnership with USAID, fronts this campaign in Rwanda.
Elizabeth Buhungiro talked to Manasseh Gihana Wandera, the Executive Director of SFH about the breastfeeding campaign.
What is the role of SFH concerning breastfeeding in Rwanda?
As an organisation, nutrition is one of our areas of intervention. Nutrition is a key component in every child’s development and is a key indicator in Rwanda’s success. In this regard, SFH conducts behaviour change communication (BCC) across the country in order to promote appropriate nutritional and health behaviours such as 1000 days campaign, which talks about, among other things, the importance of breastfeeding.
What is the current status of breastfeeding in Rwanda?
It is not a practice that has been taken up by many mothers. But because of the campaigns, because of the sensitisation messages that we pass on around the country using different communication channels, teaching materials and approaches, there has been a significant change. We engage mothers in dialogue. They discuss and see the importance of breastfeeding. As a result, the uptake of breastfeeding is improving.
In comparison to other countries, how is Rwanda doing in the area of breastfeeding?
According to a Demographic Health Survey, Rwanda has the highest (87%) of children breastfed exclusively for the first six months in the East Africa. However, breastfeeding is still a big challenge since only 17.8% of children 6-23 months receiving a minimum acceptable diet.
What has been the major cause of the low level of breastfeeding in the country?
Some mothers are not aware of the importance of breastfeeding. They don’t know that it is something good. They don’t know that it affects the health of their children. They breastfeed the child for two or three months and then they stop. They don’t know that the child is being denied nutrients necessary for optimal growth and brain development.
The nature of work is also another impediment. For instance, some people leave home early and arrive late. This routine denies them the opportunity to breastfeed their children.
What is being done to improve the working conditions of working mothers, to give them time for breastfeeding?
We are engaging employers in dialogue, to create more flexible working hours for breastfeeding mothers. At the end of the day, what an employer wants is not necessarily the presence but the output. It is also important for employers to understand the stress that mothers undergo when they have to be separated from their young children for long periods of time. This ultimately affects her output. Thus, it would be much better if employers gave breastfeeding mothers flexible working hours.
When can one be said to be practicing the right method of breastfeeding
Under its guidelines, the Ministry of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and then complementary breastfeeding until the age of two. It is only then that a child will receive all the necessary nutrients.
Why is breastfeeding important?
Breast milk is not only important for optimal growth and brain development but it also affects a child’s immune system and general physiology. That’s why we put so much emphasis on breastfeeding, even if the mother has to pump the milk for her child to drink in her absence. Additionally, breastfeeding provides an opportunity for a mother and her child to bond. It’s a way of showing love to the child.
Are there any statistics to show a correlation between the WBW with increase in breastfeeding in the country?
We as SFH do not correlate the achievements. The breastfeeding campaign is a joint effort; it is coordinated by the government and different stakeholders. We are in it together. We cannot attribute any success to SFH exclusively. We are just making a contribution.
What is this year’s theme concerning breastfeeding?
The global theme is “Breastfeeding and work: Let’s make it work.” However, the Government of Rwanda through Ministry of Health and partner organisations such as SHF Rwanda developed the national theme, “Appropriate breastfeeding and a balanced diet is the best start of life, let’s make it work.” Additionally, there are sub-themes; exclusive breastfeeding; breastfeeding at the workplace and complementary feeding.
What do you hope to achieve under the theme?
The general objective is to sensitize women working in formal and informal sectors to adequately breastfeed while working and also timely introduce complementary feeding, and then continue breastfeeding until the child is two years.