This year’s World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) started on August 1 and will end on 7th. This year’s theme emphasises the importance of increasing and sustaining the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding.
However as Rwanda joins the rest of the world to commemorate this event, many say there is little to celebrate for the working mothers who say they are given a short maternity leave, making exclusive breastfeeding hard.
Alice Majyambere, a 30-year-old mother and resident of Gikondo, who works as an accountant for a beverage firm, says the time allocated for maternity leave by her employers is too brief.
“We are only given seven weeks of maternity leave, making it hard to breast feed exclusively for the first six months. Because of the tight work schedule, I’m left with no choice but to feed the baby on supplement foods like cow milk,” Majyambere says.
According to experts, breast milk is a super food that a new born requires in plenty at least for the first six months. Breast milk contains a substance called colostrum, the most potent natural immune system booster known to science.
Babies are supposed to breastfeed after every two to three hours daily in order to keep healthy and get all the required nutrients, newborns should not go more than 4 hours without feeding.
UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) discourage giving early supplements such as powdered milk or semi-solid complementary food because it exposes infants to bacteria or viruses that are capable of causing disease.
The health body further points out that malnutrition in the first 1,000 days can cause irreversible damage to the growth and development of the child while a baby who is not breastfed is 15 times more susceptible to death from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die from diarrhea.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) observes that breast milk without supplements during the first six months reduces the possibility of food contamination due to tainted water or malnutrition as a result of over-diluted formula. Therefore, the child should be nursed without the interference of water, sugar, water, juices, or formulas, unless a specific medical condition indicates otherwise. The AAP asserts that breast milk has the perfect balance of nutrients for the infant.
Benefits of breast feeding
Audrey Mutabazi, the director of Gasp, a food science consultancy firm based in Gikondo, says during breastfeeding, a mother passes antibodies to the child hence strengthening the immune system. He adds that children who were breast-fed are significantly less likely to become obese later in childhood.
“Diarrhea is three to four times more likely to occur in infants fed on supplement foods than those fed on breast milk,” Mutabazi reveals.
He observes that significant evidence suggests that breast-fed children develop fewer psychological, behavioural and learning problems as they grow older. Cognitive development is increased among children whose mothers choose to breastfeed.
Solange Umubyeyi, a public health specialist working with Dama Clinic in Remera, says breastfeeding is good for a mother’s health as it helps them lose weight after birth. She points out that a lot of calories are burned during lactation, as their bodies produce milk.
“The emotional health of the mother may be enhanced by the relationship she develops with her infant during breastfeeding, resulting in fewer feelings of anxiety and a stronger sense of connection with her baby,” she notes.
Umubyeyi adds that studies indicate that women who lactate for a total of two or more years reduce their chances of developing breast cancer by 24 percent.
She encourages nursing mothers to drink plenty of fluids to replace the fluids lost through breast-feeding. And these include water, juice, milk or soup. She also recommends taking in foods high in vitamin A, iron, vitamin E and potassium, to boost nutrient content in the body, and these may include carrots, meat, legumes, oranges, tomatoes and milk.
According to the Save the Children’s (an N.G.O that promotes children’s rights) February 2013 report, 85 percent of Rwandan mothers breast feed their new borns exclusively in the first six months, ranking among the highest globally.
According to the Lancet, a medical journal, suboptimum breastfeeding results in more than 800,000 child deaths annually globally.
It is estimated that 3.1 million children die from malnutrition each year. Despite significant progress in reducing child mortality, 1 in 9 children in Africa still do not live to see their fifth birthday, according to the same journal.
According to the Lancet, Rwanda has the highest rate of children breast fed exclusively for the first 6 months in the region with 85%, followed by Burundi at 69%, Uganda 62%, Tanzania with 50%, and then Kenya at 32%.
Efforts by government
Alexis Mucumbitsi who works with the Health Ministry (at the nutrition desk), says a sensitisation campaign of employers countrywide is on going to help them understand the importance of introducing a breast feeding room for every work place.
He remarked that about 25,000 communit- based health workers countrywide were trained as regards the importance of breastfeeding, information they later shared with people at grass root level in 2013.