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Women get training on breastfeeding best practices

 A woman breastfeeding her baby. [File, Standard]

The Ministry of Health has adopted a baby-friendly community initiative to promote, protect and support breastfeeding. 

Under the programme, community health promoters walk through villages, teaching women on best breastfeeding practices including breastfeeding positions and hygiene to prevent transmission of infections to newborns.

Through the Division of Nutrition and Dietetics Services, 2,306 healthcare workers and 11,400 community health promoters have been trained. A total of 902 community health units are now implementing the initiative, funded by the Nutrition Improvement through Cash and Health Education (NICHE) project co-implemented by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.

A total of 126 nutritionists, paediatricians, nurses, and clinical officers drawn from 28 counties have also been trained as Trainers of Trainers (TOTs) on the best breastfeeding practices.

Public Health PS Mary Muthoni said breastfeeding stands as a cornerstone in nurturing healthy infants and ensuring their survival.

“Breastfeeding can only be improved if mothers, especially young mothers, know best practices,” said Muthoni.

Muthoni said breastfeeding also gives a child a solid nutrition and health foundation for optimal growth and development, enabling them to attain their full potential, both physically and cognitively.

According to global guidelines on infant and young child feeding practices by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, optimal breastfeeding practices include early initiation within the first hour of life, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding alongside complementary feeding for two years or beyond. 

Recent data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS, 2022) underscores the importance of breastfeeding, revealing a slight decline in rates of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding, highlighting the need for concerted efforts to reinforce support for breastfeeding mothers nationwide.

Apart from the baby-friendly initiative, the Department of Public Health created an enabling environment for breastfeeding through legislative and policy frameworks.

The Employment Act of 2007 guarantees maternity and paternity leave, while the Health Act of 2017 mandates employers to provide lactation spaces for breastfeeding mothers.

Further, the Breastmilk Substitutes Act of 2012 and the subsequent Breast Milk Substitute Regulations of 2021 ensure appropriate marketing and distribution of breast milk substitutes, promoting breastfeeding as the optimal feeding choice.

Muthoni noted that the Ministry of Health’s collaboration with partners such as UNICEF and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) has yielded significant strides, particularly evident during World Breastfeeding Week 2023.

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