Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life yields health benefits, provides critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases and fosters growth and development. Unfortunately, mothers are avoiding this crucial duty, exposing infants to early death, writes Peter Orengo
This month, the world comes together to mark World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) amid startling reports that more than 11,000 children under the age five in Kenya die annually due to poor breastfeeding practices.
The global event is marked every August to advocate for the right of infants and young children to proper nutrition through optimal breastfeeding. The objective is to promote, protect and support breastfeeding as the optimal way of feeding infants in the first six months of life.
Although Kenya is a predominantly a breastfeeding nation, only 32 per cent of Kenyan children are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life as indicated in the 2008-09, Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS).
The report also reveals how children fed with their mother’s milk in the first six months are performing better in school than those who were given milk formula.
“Adequate provision of nutrients, beginning in the early stages of life is considered crucial to ensure good physical and mental development,” read the report in part.
This is done through exclusive breastfeeding, which is considered as the single most effective intervention to reduce under-five mortality by one fifth.
As part of national child survival strategies in Kenya, exclusive breastfeeding is one of the High Impact Interventions (HII) that has been prioritised as a critical intervention in child survival.
“This calls for concerted efforts in advocacy, especially by key policy-makers, stakeholder’s, health workers, private sector and the general community in order to support mothers to successfully breastfeed their children,” said Dr Annah Wamae, senior assistant director of Medical Services, during the launch Infant Feeding and HIV Guidelines, at a hotel in Nairobi.
The study also revealed that Kenya loses more than Sh76 billion every year treating three major, but preventable diseases caused by improper breastfeeding. The three include Otitis Media, lower respiratory tract infections, and gastrointestinal illnesses.
It is recommended that babies should be breastfed for the first six months before weaning, but the survey showed most Kenyan mothers prefer ‘mixed-feeding’ rather than exclusive breastfeeding.