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Breast milk is good for mother and child

By | Sep 5th 2010 | 5 min read

Harold Ayodo

A baby is the joy of any woman, including those who juggle their time between careers and domestic responsibilities. But for many modern women, the dilemma is whether to breastfeed or not. For some, the challenge to breastfeed a baby is the balance of time, while for others it is for cosmetic and beauty reasons.

Many women, however, would prefer to breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months before introducing other foods, and later continue breastfeeding for two years as recommended by experts.

Jennifer Maina at home. She began breastfeeding her baby an hour after deliver.

Jennifer Maina, a manager of a local bank, is one such woman. I found her breastfeeding her two-week-old baby girl, Tanaya, in her house along Thika Road.

"I started breastfeeding less than an hour after delivering my baby — my first — two weeks ago," says Jennifer. "Motherhood is a real experience."

Jennifer plans to breastfeed Tanaya religiously until she reports back to work in December.

"My maternity leave ends in late December… I will have to leave my baby at home and go to work as my contract demands," she says.

At home, Jennifer’s diet mainly consists of fresh vegetables, fruits and fluids to ensure good milk production. As Jennifer cuddles and breastfeeds her child, official figures depict a reduction in breastfeeding. The latest statistics from Government show that a paltry 32 per cent of the 1.5 million women who deliver annually exclusively breastfeed their babies.

Approximately 97 per cent of mothers breastfeed, but only half practice early initiation of breastfeeding while a third exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. Furthermore, 13 per cent of all deaths of children under the age of five can be prevented through breastfeeding.

Public Health Director Shahnaaz Sharif says exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a child’s life is key to ensuring their survival. According to paediatricians, breast milk is the perfect feed for a baby following its nutrients and protective elements, which prevent illnesses.

Added advantages

Dr Peter Ngwatu, a paediatrician, says babies exclusively breastfed for six months have five per cent less chances of getting pneumonia.

"There are added advantages of mothers bonding with breastfed babies and reduction of diarrhoeal illnesses by over seven per cent," Dr Ngwatu says.

Ministry of Public Health Head of Family Health Department Anna Wamae says breast milk also protects children from ear and respiratory infections.

"It sees the antibodies of the mother transferred to the baby thereby protecting them from diseases," Anna says.

"Suckling a mother’s breast strengthens facial muscles and promotes proper alignment of the baby’s teeth. Natural components found in breast milk also act as a painkiller, protecting the child from the effect of vaccination, teething, burns and bruises," Anna adds.

For mothers, breastfeeding is essential as it allows weight loss and helps the uterus contract faster. According to Dr Ngwatu, newly born babies should be breastfed between 30 minutes to an hour after birth to stimulate the breast.

"Babies should enjoy colostrum milk as it is highly concentrated with nutrients essential for survival and its small digestive system," Dr Ngwatu says.

Most modern women, however, cannot breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months following demands from the work place. Legally, labour laws provide that nursing mothers be given three months maternity leave before resuming duty.

For Jennifer, seeking an alternative to direct breastfeeding will enable her juggle between the corporate world and her baby.

"I will use the milk pump when I resume work," she says.

A milk pump allows mothers to express breast milk into bottles or cups, which they can then store in the fridge for later use. When well stored in a freezer, the milk can be used three months later.

Paediatricians concur that expressing milk is an option that most professional women should use to sustain their babies. Dr Ngwatu, however, warns that the highest levels of hygiene should be maintained when expressing and storing the milk to avoid contamination.

"Breast milk can last up to eight hours at room temperature, two weeks in a regular fridge and up to three months when frozen," Dr Ngwatu says.

Jennifer Maina with a breast pump.[PhotoS: ANNE KAMONI/STANDARD AND COURTESY]

Working mothers can store the expressed in milk bags or bottles.

"Breastfeeding is work and needs commitment compared to bottle feeding, which is easy. Perhaps that is why many mothers are opting for it," Dr Ngwatu says.

As medics insist that exclusive breast milk has no comparison to other alternatives, some modern women have reservations. Hellen Wachira believes some professional women stop breastfeeding well before the required period.

"These mothers fear breastfeeding for long will make them lose their figure, or their breasts will either grow bigger or become limp," Hellen says.

Consequently, an increasing number of women prefer to buy bottled or canned powder milk from supermarkets. To Maureen Wavinya, professional women walk a tight rope struggling to balance commitments at home and the workplace, which could also include furthering education.

"Challenges at work and going to school in the evening in order to advance careers occasionally pushes breastfeeding to the back burner," says Maureen.

Modern fathers seem to concur that professional women should be given extended maternity leave for the benefit of babies. Christopher Kituto, a computer technologist, says the experience of his two children made him appreciate the benefits of breastfeeding.

"My wife breastfed our two children religiously for six months and they were healthy. Our children rarely suffered illness associated with babies," Kituto says.

According to Kituto, husbands should encourage their wives to breastfeed exclusively at least during maternity leave.


As women struggle to balance mothering and careers, the Government is keen to promote exclusive breast-feeding. Public Health Minister Beth Mugo recently announced a law would be introduced to control the sale of baby milk substitutes in the country. The move is among several Government initiatives aimed at promoting breastfeeding to control child mortality rate.

"Plans are underway to enact the regulatory law of milk substitutes on the Kenyan market," says Mugo. "Some of the substitute products are not of the right formula… there is need to regulate them for the sake of the health of our children."

The minister says substitutes to breast milk have flooded the market, which is a setback to promoting exclusive breastfeeding by mothers.

According to Dr Ngwatu, the increasingly popular substitutes cannot take the place of colostrum milk.

"Colostrum has a mild laxative effect that helps the infant empty its first bowel. It also soothes and cleanses the digestive system, thus preventing jaundice," he says.

Colostrum later changes to normal milk.

"Nursing mothers should never worry about the volumes of milk in the first week of life as the colostrum caters for everything," Dr Ngwatu says.

Mothers are, however, warned that when babies gulp milk and the flow is too fast, it could result in swallowing of excess air, causing hiccups, tummy discomfort and vomiting.

Further, contrary to popular belief, excessive eating and drinking by nursing mothers does not increase the amount of milk.

"Eating gives the mother physical strength and the psychological confidence that they are doing something positive to assist in the production of breast milk. However, they should know that if they are over-eating, then they will gain excess weight. The trick is to eat healthy and drink plenty of fluids to avoid thirst and dehydration," counselled Dr. Ngwatu.

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