“After hours of labour and the final push that delivered my baby to this world, breastfeeding was the furthest thing on my mind. I only met her first cry with a sigh of relief and sense of accomplishment,” recounts Jeannette Mukagasana.
She recalls that when she delivered her first daughter six years ago, she felt that all she deserved were congratulations from the medics and family for a job well done.
“Little did I know that the job was not really finished until the baby was given the first crucial intake of breast milk within thirty minutes to one hour after giving birth,” she confesses.
According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics last year, 16 out of every 100 deaths of new-borns can be prevented by breast feeding infants from day one.
The reason for this is because early breastfeeding provides important nutrients, protects new-borns against deadly diseases and fosters growth and development.
As Dr. Edgar Kalimba of King Faisal Hospital explains that breastfeeding also stimulates bonding between mother and child as well as keeping the infants warm through skin-to-skin contact with the mother.
“Immediate breastfeeding helps expel the placenta faster, thus reducing blood loss and also helps ‘cleanup’ the baby’s stomach by removing the first stool,” he adds.
Kalimba explains that this yellowish first milk known as colostrum is referred to as the new-born’s first vaccine as it helps to protect the baby from infections.
Breastfeeding reduces the number of death caused by acute respiratory infection and diarrhea, which are two major causes of child mortality.
Breast milk is all a baby needs to develop in the first six months because it contains all the required nutrients available from the mother for free.
Working mothers may express their milk and leave it behind when going to work. This can be stored for the baby’s use until the mother returns.
Prof Ruth Nduati, a renowned nutritionist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s School of medicine affirms that breast milk can stay fresh over a wide range of temperatures.
“If left at room temperature, breast milk will remain fresh and safe for the baby for eight to ten hours. If refrigerated, it will remain fresh for 72 hours and if frozen, it will remain safe up to three months,” Nduati said.
Fortunately in Rwanda, up to 80 per cent of the children are breast fed up six months and according to the health ministry, this is a commendable development.