Healthy children crucial for nation’s development

Sunday August 12 2018


By Saumu Jumanne

As the world celebrated breastfeeding last week, a Kenyan woman (25 year old Faith Nyokabi) made news, after she was arrested for refusing to breastfeed her baby. Reason, she wanted her husband to pay her in cash Ksh100,000 so as to resume breastfeeding. Strange indeed!

One of the highest love and care for an infant is exclusive breasting (EBF). It’s also a right for the newborn, unless under medical grounds. World bodies like Unicef recommend EBF - only breast milk, without any additional foods in the first six months.

The list of benefits of breastfeeding for babies and their mothers is long, yet some women fail in this noble duty. Different books tells us that breast milk contains antibodies which do a lot in helping the baby fight off viruses and bacteria. EBF lowers the baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies, and it’s noteworthy that EBF babies have less infections and illnesses including diarrhoea.

Despite all those listed benefits among others there are many women like Faith Nyokabi, who for different reasons refuse to give their kids’ their birthright- breast milk.

Here in Tanzania, according to FAO some women fail to breastfeed their children because of mobile phones or just to preserve their beauty. These are very retrogressive reasons but sordid reality and must be discouraged at all costs.

Activist Mwanahamisi Singano notes that “In Tanzania, most working mother stop breastfeeding soon after they return to work, and for those who did, go extra mile.” Because the maternity leave is for 90 days, this often forces mothers to quit EBF and introduce other foods before six months are over. Singano asserts that “the core of maternity leave is breastfeeding” and that there is evidence that the “longer paid maternity leave, the long breastfeeding period for working mothers.”

In the past this column has advocated for employers to have lactation rooms, which would solve the problem of working mothers, who need EBF. But as they say, if wishes were horses beggars would ride. Which company is willing to invest in this?

It’s not all sad news. In most places in Tanzania a woman can breastfeed in public. A big up for Tanzanian men, they don’t harass, they don’t even give a second glance to a mother lactating her child, it’s a normal activity.

Sometimes back, Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu noted that by “reducing stunting and malnutrition among children in Tanzania, it means creating a productive society that will catch up with the country’s industrialisation agenda.”

This starts from when a woman gets pregnant. Proper care must be observed which includes eating healthy, so that the baby can be born in great health. After the baby comes, the first six months of his/her life matters a lot and EBF meals a lot for both the baby and mother. Ms Mwalimu once said, EBF for six months is “important to prevent growth retardation”.

A paper by Evodia Kokushubira and Achilles Kiwanuka published last year- ‘Factors Affecting Exclusive Breastfeeding Among Post-Natal Mothers in Kinondoni Municipality, Dar es Salaam’, noted some very pertinent issues. It reveals that some of the factors that affect EBF include anxiety of breastfeeding in public; household chores and mother’s sickness. In the research about 12 per cent of the respondents soon after birth gave their babies “something else other than breast milk.” This was in addition to colostrum. Only about 35 per cent were on EBF.

Ms Mwalimu is more optimistic and says it’s about 59 per cent of babies in Tanzania who are breastfed as advised by experts. This being the case, we may need to respond to Evodia and Achilles call in their paper for improvement of the institutional policies and cultural practices that impede breastfeeding through legislation.