- See Evelyn Mozambique
- BBC News, Nairobi
Sophie Saronch is feeling guilty.
Kenya, 25, returned to work three months after birth, so she was unable to breastfeed her baby girl for the recommended six months.
This trained nutritionist explains that he had no choice but to give his family money.
“I had to go back to work for our survival,” he explains.
But she is surrounded by advice that she has made the wrong choice for her daughter.
Kenyan health officials recommend that babies be breastfed only for the first six months. In addition, the government has demanded that formula milk manufacturers, in advertising campaigns and products, mention breastfeeding as recommended.
The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that breastfeeding a baby for only six months “provides a powerful protection against all forms of childhood malnutrition.” It is “the baby’s first vaccine, which protects against many common childhood diseases”.
Overall, Kenya has the highest breastfeeding rates, with almost all babies being breastfed immediately after birth. But more than 60% of babies are exclusively breastfed for six months, according to data released by the International Journal of Breastfeeding.
Free time but no pay
“Even though I was a nutritionist I had to give my daughter cow’s milk and I know very well that her body could not easily digest it,” Ms Sarong explained.
The formula – usually made from cow’s milk, which is highly adaptable to the baby – is unaffordable to her, and has been expensive since the government reintroduced a 16% sales tax on the product in 2021.
To make matters worse, Ms. Saronge says she, like other Kenyans, did not receive the three months’ paid leave after having a baby because she did not have a proper work contract.
Others are lucky.
Because her husband had a good income, Caroline Vairamu was able to quit her marketing job when she gave birth to twins.
“The best way to encourage mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months is to give them six months’ paid maternity leave. Most people leave after three months because it is difficult to balance work and motherhood,” she explains.
Currently, working mothers are entitled to three months’ paid maternity leave.
Women’s rights activist Ruth Mumby said the government was not interested in women’s issues and therefore was not interested in extending maternity leave.
The Department of Labor did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.
But the Department of Health says there has been significant progress in providing maternity leave with full pay for mothers. However, the government does not currently plan to extend this period through further amendments to the Labor Act.
Some analysts say officials are facing strong opposition from employers – President Uhuru Kenyatta failed to sign a law passed in parliament in 2016, forcing companies to provide breastfeeding rooms. The bill was re-introduced in 2019, but has not yet been approved by parliament.
But Veronica Grogo, nutrition director for the health ministry, said several ministries and 50 private sector companies had already set up breastfeeding rooms and the government was committed to the proposed law.
This allows mothers to either breastfeed their baby or breastfeed and store it in the refrigerator.
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The income of a single mother, Evelyn Muenie, who had to return to work a month later, depended on substandard work.
“I had to leave it to the next door neighbor who gave me cow’s milk and porridge when I washed my daughter by hand, and cleaned people’s houses so I could pay for my food and rent,” he says.
Ms. Grogo explains that mothers working in the informal sector are encouraged to constantly express breast milk by hand and sit for eight hours in cold water so that it is not wasted.
But Ms Muweni says it was easier to buy cow’s milk because she did not have enough milk to satisfy her baby.
Newborn pediatrician Dr. Moses Lango says, “Breastfeeding is not recommended from a public health perspective because it is sufficient for babies for the first six months.”
“From a medical point of view, doctors allow premature breastfeeding for a variety of reasons, but from the age of four and a half months, if the baby shows signs of wanting to open his mouth and want to be fed, he can swallow when he is fed,” she adds.
Efforts are being made across the continent to encourage mothers to choose breastfeeding.
The WHO has called for an end to aggressive child formula advertising following a recent report that manufacturers are buying new parents’ data from apps and using that information to target them.
Like Kenya, Liberia’s parliament passed legislation regulating advertising and labeling as an alternative to breastfeeding to encourage breastfeeding.
Namibia recently increased the monthly state allowance for women on maternity leave from a minimum of $ 20 (£ 16) to a maximum of $ 1,000, which encourages mothers to stay home and breastfeed longer.
In Namibia, maternity leave is only three months – one month late in pregnancy – only working mothers who have worked for at least six months are eligible, as well as state benefits.
“Breastfeeding improves IQ, school attendance and is associated with higher adult income,” says WHO.
Although the benefits of breastfeeding are clear, some countries still do not know how to implement policies that improve the country’s health.
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