Breastfeeding: Foundation for Life

“Breastfeeding is also a newborn’s first vaccine, providing vital antibodies and an immunity boost. From the earliest moments of a child’s life, breastfeeding can mean the difference between life and death.” - UNICEF and WHO

On May 15th 2018, hundreds of demonstrators marched along Nairobi, Kenya city streets to protest the mistreatment of a mother who was banned from openly breastfeeding her child in a restaurant. The mother who had posted online a few days before protest recounted how the employers of the establishment had asked her to either cover her breastfeeding baby or do it in the washroom. One of the organisers of the protests a Ms Mildred Owiso, noted that these incidents of discrimination against breastfeeding mothers were on the rise and the government needed to act fast.

“We demand that the right of babies to feed is taken into consideration in all public and private spaces. We, as women and mothers, declare that we will not breastfeed our babies in washrooms. We will do it where we want, when we want and how we want,” said Ms Owiso in an interview with one of the local dailies. The restaurant’s management later offered an apology and asked the complainant to come forward and assist in identifying the waiter who threw her out for action.

Worldwide Problem

Globally only 38% of infants are exclusively breastfed. Sub-optimal breastfeeding contributes to 823,000 child deaths, 20,000 maternal deaths, and $302 billion in economic losses each year. These are stark reminders of the current reality of the cost of not scaling up breastfeeding. These figures were shared by the Breastfeeding foundation of life, during the 2018 breastfeeding week in August. The week seeks to highlight the benefits of breastfeeding in preventing malnutrition in all its forms, ensuring food security even in times of crisis and breaking the cycle of poverty.

The theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week was “Breastfeeding: Foundation for Life” — a recognition of the importance of breastfeeding to a baby’s future. Another statement released by UNICEF further revealed that putting newborns to the breast within the first hour of life safeguards against newborn deaths for mothers it reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer. While in emergency settings, when communities are faced with limited access to clean water and basic health services, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for infants and young children, while shielding them from disease.

Despite these clear benefits, many children are missing out. Globally, only about two out of five of all newborns are put to the breast within an hour of birth — and only 40 per cent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed. The statement also noted that there are many reasons why millions of women are unable to start and continue breastfeeding successfully. For example, lack of political will to improve access to the quality care, counselling and support they need from health workers. Others are given infant formula or other substitutes in maternity facilities, when they could be breastfeeding.

A 2018 scorecard released by the Global Breastfeeding Collective — a partnership of more than 20 international agencies and non-governmental organizations co-led by UNICEF and WHO — calls for more action and investment in a number of areas. These recommendations include increased funding for comprehensive breastfeeding programmes, better monitoring systems to track breastfeeding trends, strengthened maternity and paternity leave provisions that encourage breastfeeding and improved breastfeeding counselling and support in health facilities.

Benefits of Breastfeeding to the community