The Benefits and Challenges of Breastfeeding

World Breastfeeding Week is this week (August 1-7). It’s a time to focus the maternal and newborn health discussion on the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding. There is little question that breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life is ideal. The WHO recommends this to “achieve optimal health, development, and growth.” Jacaranda Health supports and encourages breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a newborn’s life and offers the tools and resources to women who birth at our clinics to do so. The good news is that rates of breastfeeding in Kenya have increased significantly since 2003. That doesn’t mean that there is always proper support or resources outside the clinics’ walls, though. There are still challenges to overcome.

Jacaranda Maternity’s Interim Clinic Manager, Catherine Nyokabi Ongeti, recalls one woman who came to Jacaranda for care jacaranda-2during her pregnancy, who told her “there was no way she could breastfeed for six months” after giving birth because she had to return to work and she was sure her boss would not provide her a private space to pump. Catherine encouraged her to talk to her boss before she gave birth and explain to him what she needed and why it was so important. To the woman’s surprise, her boss granted her request happily and she was able to pump in privacy for months after she returned to work, giving her baby an excellent start at life. This is far from a universal experience, of course, but addressing barriers as they arise is not only important – it can be life-saving.

Close to seven million children under the age of five die every year, mostly from preventable causes. Of these, half are newborns. Yes, you read that right — and most of those are in developing countries including here in Kenya. Breastfeeding can help save these lives. Breastfeeding is not only great for babies. It helps mothers also: breastfeeding right after birth reduces the risk of postpartum hemorrhage and can help delay another pregnancy too soon in the postpartum period.

The global health community supports breastfeeding for these reasons and more. And pregnant and new mothers often have strong intentions to breastfeed. However, according to UNICEF,

While breastfeeding rates are no longer declining at the global level, with many countries experiencing significant increases in the last decade, only 39 per cent of children less than six months of age in the developing world are exclusively breastfed and just 58 per cent of 20-23 month olds benefit from the practice of continued breastfeeding.

In Kenya, the good news is that the percentage of women who breastfeed exclusively for six months has been on the rise since 2003 when the rate was 13 percent. It rose to 32 percent in 2008 where is stands according to the latest figures on hand. Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama, a journalist and blogger in Nairobi, writes at Mom Bloggers for Social Good, that, “Despite this remarkable improvement, Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Mr. James Macharia says that the figures are still not at a desirable level, adding that many Kenyan children still miss out on the important nutritional benefits of breastmilk.”

The popular belief that breastfeeding comes naturally to new mothers doesn’t always take into account the barriers to doing so, exclusively, which include misinformation (such as that newborns need water to supplement the breast milk) and lack of support (see  the story above). Jacaranda Health is doing our part to promote breastfeeding exclusively with women who come in for antenatal and childbirth care as we work to fulfill our mission to ensure that all women have access to high-quality, respectful care. We hope you’ll join us and support our work!

For more:

Check out Jennifer James’ post on The Gates Foundation’s blog, Impatient  Optimists, “5 Reasons Why  Breastfeeding Matters”

World Breastfeeding Week pledges 2014 (country-by-country list)

“Breastfeeding is the cheapest and most effective lifesaver in history” – UNICEF Kenya

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