The Kenyan constitution 2010 article 53 1(c), clearly explains how mothers, family members, caregivers, health care providers, employers, and Government, all have a responsibility to help the baby achieve optimal growth and development (1).
The first 1000 days of life are the most critical for physical and mental development of a child. Here in Kenya, about 1 in 4 (26%) of children under the age of 5 years are stunted. Good nutrition for pregnant women and children during this period is vital to prevent stunting.
Exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feeding up to the first 2 years are among the proven and cost effective high impact nutrition interventions for optimal growth and development, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Mothers are encouraged to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of delivery, exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months without giving other foods, and to continue breastfeeding alongside appropriate complementary foods through 2 years.
Kenya has recorded great improvement in exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life (61%) (2). This figure surpasses the WHO target to ‘Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50%’(3). This achievement has been realised by investments in the promotion of breastfeeding through various initiatives, such as the creation of baby friendly hospitals.
Despite the remarkable improvements, there is still more to be done to promote continued breastfeeding, along with appropriate complementary feedings, for the first 2 years of life of the child. In Kenya, only the 53% of children are continuously breastfed during this period (2).
The role of Health Care Providers
The health care providers have an essential role in encouraging and educating mothers to initiate breastfeeding within one hour of delivery, to exclusively breastfeed for six complete months and to continue breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for the first 2 years.
The role of local communities
Communities shape the thinking and action of our mothers.
Unfortunately, in some Kenyan communities women still believe that they do not produce enough milk and they fear they will starve their own babies. Also, it is sometimes believed that breastmilk alone is not enough for the child; that animal milk is “stronger” and that by practicing exclusive breastfeeding their children will become weaker. None of this is accurate.
“Breastmilk refusal” by the baby is another reason for introducing other foods and drinks, which can deny the baby the right to basic nutrition.
The role of the family
Family members should allow time and space for mothers to breastfeed while at home by providing a comfortable sitting area, allowing the baby to breastfeed adequately. They should also assist in taking care of older children, and provide emotional and physical support to the mother.
The role of Kenya’s leaders
Breastfeeding and child nutrition needs to be positioned at the highest level of the National and County Government structures, with a multi-stakeholder approach to child nutrition. Parliament for example, could enact law that allows mothers six months’ maternity leave to exclusively breastfeed their babies.
Breastfeeding is key step in protecting the health of women and children. Sustained breastfeeding for sustainable development requires a collaborative effort among all stakeholders. Let’s all play our role this week.