Last month, the world commemorated the annual breastfeeding week which happens every August 1-7. This year, the theme was ‘sustaining breastfeeding together’. As such, we are celebrating all the different ways we can work together to support breastfeeding mothers.
According to statistics released by the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, only 21 per cent of women in the country observe the two-year breast-feeding period recommended by experts.
Majority of career women fall under the remaining percentage of mothers who don’t observe the breastfeeding period. Working mothers are affected by working environment when trying to balance both motherhood and career. Meeting career goals as well as fulfilling the real value of breast feeding without denying children their right to a nutritious diet is hard to achieve.
Woman brings you different experiences from career women who on one hand work to meet targets and deadlines while on the other are breastfeeding mothers who have to meet the two year breast feeding period as recommended by health experts.
Matilda Rugalabamu, 37, is a mother of four children and an engineer. Her last born is just one year old. It is recommended for a child to be breastfed for two years, she breastfed three of her babies for only one year and two months.
“Since I became a mother, none of my children have been breastfed for more than one year and two months. Managing time has been a permanent challenge that left me with no option but to breastfeed for one year and two months to create room to meet deadlines at work,” says Matilda.
She says that, soon after completing her maternity period she has to report to work from 8am and take a break for two hours to breastfeed her child before going back to work to finish her daily duties.
Balancing motherhood and work
Due to demanding schedules both at work and home, creating a balance between motherhood and work is a daunting task for Matilda. During the first three months soon after her maternity leave she departs from work at 2pm and due transport issues in Dar es Salaam she gets home between 4-5pm.
“You can imagine how hard it is to make sure work targets are met as well as getting enough time to rest and eat proper meals suitable for a breastfeeding mother. Leave alone the stress I go through on the road dealing with unprofessional drivers or at home dealing with the house girl,” she says.
It is because of such circumstances that I’m forced to relinquish the baby off breastfeeding when they turn one year and two months. It is not a good idea but it is the only feasible way I can juggle all the duties on my shoulders,” adding, “but also, at one year and two months a child is already walking and more physically developed.”
In 2014 Dr Donnan Mmbando, then acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, was quoted saying; failure to observe proper breast-feeding had resulted in an increasing number of children who are malnourished or stunted.
Tanzania had more stunted children than most African countries, except DRC and Ethiopia, with 42 per cent of its children being stunted.
He said children who have been deprived of nutrients for healthy growth have also been deprived of nutrients for healthy brain development and healthy immune systems, calling upon mothers to observe breastfeeding guidelines.
Joyceline Kaganda, the Director for Nutrition, Education and Training Tanzania at the Food and Nutrition Centre says that, breast milk substitutes and similarly designated products flooding the local market are the alternatives used by mothers.
She says that, about 50 per cent of mothers observed the exclusive six-month breast-feeding period, while only 30 percent breastfed alongside giving children pre-lacteal feeds.
Amina Dudu, 35, works at a hair dressing salon in Tabata. She is a breastfeeding mother to a 9 months-year-old daughter called Namla. Her experience is worst compared to Matilda’s. She was only given three months of maternity, soon after she resumed work she was not even considered for the two hours a day for breast feeding.
“It is not easy to breastfeed without being supported by the employer and family members. If all employers could create special places for breastfeeding mothers to breastfeed their children while at work, then we would be more productive,” says Amina.
Amina says that during the first six months the flow of her breast milk was so heavy that she could not manage to get enough milk to support her daughter’s intake of exclusive breastfeeding. As time went by, her breast milk production was completely affected by poor nutrition and now she no longer produces enough breast milk for her daughter so she uses formulas.
Earlier this month when launching a breastfeeding week, Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu called upon employers to provide special rooms for lactating mothers at work places.
She said that, creating a supportive enviroment for breastfeeding mothers will push the government’s efforts to allow infants being breastfed exclusively for the first six months.
Education on breastfeeding
Rose Mathew, a Nursing Officer at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) says that despite the fact that there is a challenge on trying to make a balance between career and parenting; still there is the problem of low education on proper nutrition among mothers.
Rose is the head of the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) Ward at the MNH, following the hospital’s decision to adopt the new initiative in August 2012. The decision was meant to cope with the lack of incubators to save lives of premature babies.
She says that about 98 per cent of women do not follow proper breastfeeding schedule suggesting that there is a need for the government as well as other stakeholders on reproductive health to introduce proper education on the importance of proper breastfeeding even before a woman thinks of getting a baby.
“Majority of mothers tend to even have schedules on what time they should breastfeed. A child should be breastfed whenever she/he wants. This helps to create a bond between a mother and a child as well as protecting a child from unnecessary diseases,” says Rose.
According to the Employment and Labour Relations Act-2004, a new mother is allowed to breastfeed a child for two hours a day for the first six months after her martenity period, completing the maternity period.
Mariamu Hussein, a teacher and a new mother to her son Issa, ten months, says that the government has done some changes to allow mothers to get two hours to breastfeed their children for nine moths.
“I think the government has created a very unique opportunity to support mothers to breastfeed their children with the time extension, however challenges are still the same as it is not easy for the mother to get home at exactly lunch time due to transport issues,” she says.
She suggests that employers and family members support breastfeeding mothers in order to make a proper arrangement that will give more time for a mother and a child. It is not possible for all employers to build special rooms for breastfeeding but atleast they should give a friendly schedule that can allow mothers to get home early.