A baby breastfeeding Photo/Courtesy

Today marks the start of the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) and this year, the week promotes the importance of family-friendly policies to enable breastfeeding and help parents nurture and bond with their children.

Kenya has made tremendous steps in ensuring that breastfeeding of infants is achieved at the workplace, hospital and home. This year, a Human Milk Bank was launched at Pumwani Maternity Hospital, a first of its kind in East and Central Africa.

The Milk Bank, which has been operational for three months, is expected to help save the lives of susceptible babies who are born prematurely or cannot access the mother’s milk.

The facility has a pasteurizer that can hold 9.4 million liters, two refrigerators and four freezers with a 240-litre capacity.

Lactating mothers are screened before expressing their milk to the bank, which is heated for 30 minutes at 60.5 degrees Celsius before it is cooled, packed and stored for use for up to six months.

This reduces the duration infants stay in hospital thus saving on healthcare funds.

In 2018, the government directed employers to set up breastfeeding stations for the career women with newborn babies.

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said this was in line with the Health Act 2017.

“Breastfeeding is the healthiest start to life. It is a baby’s first vaccine and the best source of nutrition. It is a universal solution that lays the foundation for good health and survival for children and women,” she said.

The law requires all employers to establish lactation stations in the workplace, which shall be adequately provided with necessary equipment and facilities including hand washing
equipment, refrigerates or appropriate cooling facilities, electrical outlets for breast pumps, a small table comfortable seats the standard of which shall be defined by the Ministry responsible for matters relating to health.  The lactation station shall not be located in the rest rooms.

In addition, an employer shall grant all nursing employees break intervals for nursing break intervals in addition to the regular times off for meals employees to breastfeed or express milk. The time intervals shall include the time it takes an employee to get to and from the lactation station and shall be counted as compensable hours worked provided that such intervals shall not be more than a total of one hour for every eight
hour working period.

{ Read: Milk of kindness: Women to donate breast milk to Pumwani bank }

However, human resource policies to promote this directive are lacking and only 35 companies in Kenya have so far complied with government offices lagging behind.

Among those that have complied are Safaricom, Nestle Kenya, Standard Group, Mabati Rolling Mills, Kenya Women Microfinance Corporation, Kenya Red Cross Society and World Vision.

According to Action Against Hunger and consultant for the Ministry of health Mary Kabura Kimani, the private sector is doing well in implanting the Breastfeeding Bill while public government offices are yet to attain the required level, KNA reports.

“The law is there and is clear considering two out of three women are engaged in economic activities outside home in either formal or informal sector,” says Ms Kimani.

Founder of Africa Journal of food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development Prof. Ruth Oniang’o told KNA that although the government supports breastfeeding, it should be the one taking lead in setting spaces for breastfeeding for its workers in the public offices.

She further said that the current diseases such as Cancer are coming about because of lack of exclusive breastfeeding as a foundation and government therefore needs to combine the breastfeeding as a child and a healthy adult who is productive.

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“Research shows mothers who breastfeed exclusively lower the risk of breast cancer and there is evidence there is enough research that a woman who continues breastfeeding their babies, the greater the protection against cancer as well as bringing up an adult who is healthy and productive,” she adds.

Government offices, Prof. Oniang’o notes just like the churches and the private sector should ensure that breastfeeding is encouraged not only during this World breastfeeding week but throughout the year.

According to UNICEF, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually from August 1-7, to highlight the critical importance of breastfeeding for children across the globe.

“Breastfeeding is the foundation of good nutrition and protects children against disease. In this way, breastfeeding allows all children to thrive and develop to their full potential,” UNICEF says.

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