By Thomas Bwire
Lucas Omulo, a 53-year-old father of four recently elicited laughter when he said that he has become a breastfeeding father. He was quick to confirm that his manly breasts are as dry as ever, but that he is committed to seeing that the baby suckles from her mother’s breast for six- months, full time, without being fed with anything else.
The resident of Soweto village in Kibera was speaking at an event to mark World Breastfeeding Week which is celebrated globally every August 1st to 7th, added that his other children were not exclusively breastfed, as is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Not anymore,” said Omulo. “I will support my wife fully, and I call upon all other men to do so, as I now know that when you breastfeed your child for six months, you spend less time visiting hospitals as babies are healthier.”
Omulo says that his children who weren’t exclusively breastfed for six months had weaker immunities in their early years in comparison to their latest baby. They only breastfed for three months before being introduced to solid foods.
Omulo spoke at an event in Kianda, Kibera, which attracted about 1000 women, with the majority being nursing mothers and expectant women. Elsewhere in the world, other communities of stakeholders were marking World Breastfeeding Week with the theme “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together.”
Omulo’s perception has greatly been changed by the Women led Care Group Initiative, managed by Carolina for Kibera, a non- governmental organization. Through their teachings at their home in Soweto West on several occasions, Omulo learned about the wonders of breast milk, and hooked, he fully embraced breastfeeding.
He learned that breastfeeding is the first preventive health measure that can be given to a child at birth and it also enhances the mother-infant relationship. It is nature’s first immunization, enabling the infant to fight any potential serious infections and it contains growth factors that enhance the maturation of an infant’s organ systems as part of their early childhood development stages.
According to Nerea Ojanga, Chief Nurse at Kenyatta National Hospital, breastfeeding infants right from birth, and exclusively from for six months has myriad benefits. “Breast milk is the most nutritious food for babies. It protects them from infection, allergies, some chronic diseases, childhood cancers, and sudden infant death syndrome” said Ojanga.
She added that breastfeeding also sees babies grow up strong, in addition helping the baby and mother bond better. “And it is a natural birth control phenomenon. Women who breastfeed exclusively do not ovulate six months after birth, a method recommended by World Health Organization and known as lactational amenorrhea.”
In an exclusive interview with the County of Nairobi Nutritionist Coordinator, Esther Kwamboka Mogusu, revealed that Nairobi County now stands at 78% on exclusive breastfeeding rates, above the national rates of 61% according to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) report in 2014. The survey report also indicates that 99 per cent of children below six months are exclusively breastfed.
But as Kenya celebrates this milestone in breastfeeding, a big concern is being flagged off by experts as the country is said to be lagging behind in enhancing safer spaces for breastfeeding mothers. The majority of working mothers have to contend with lacking infrastructure and are forced to express the breast milk, and leave it behind with their house helps.
“God knows if the milk is handled safely and hygienically,” exclaimed one mother.
However, the government has introduced the Breastfeeding Mother’s Bill 2017. Its primary objective is to provide a legal framework for mothers who may wish to breastfeed in the workplace. The bill provides for the right of a mother to breastfeed and to be able express milk for her infant freely. The bill further requires employers to provide nursing employees with lactation rooms to either breastfeed or express milk.
Kenya is a signatory to treaties that provide for the right of an infant to exclusively breastfeed for six months. Due to this, the government should be at the forefront to promote and encourage breastfeeding and provide measures to support working mothers to continue expressing their milk and breastfeeding their infant.
Omulo’s success story is built on a pillar of the Women Care Group initiative driven by women themselves and their key mandate is targeted at promoting reproductive health-related issues targeting Kibera families.
According to Yunus Mohamed, Program Officer-Community Outreach at Carolina for Kibera, a non-governmental that has actively supported the existence of this group since its formation in 2014 to date, their core mandate has been to conduct grassroots lessons on topical health issues to families that include households with expectant mothers and their spouses.
Mohamed says the program comprises of almost 1000 women who are taken through a monthly curriculum, which they then use to conduct household educative sessions among households of Kibera. The Women Care Group initiative is said to be doing what it can so as to help and be able to make an impact one by one in the community with the goal of combating malnourishment in children who are under six months so that they can live to see their fifth birthday and beyond.