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Promoting family friendly policies to enable breastfeeding

Today  marks the start of  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.

This  includes enacting paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks, and also paid paternity leave to encourage shared responsibility of caring for their children on an equal basis.

The  World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from 1 to 7 August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.

It  commemorates the Innocent Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

In Kenya the day is being marked in Nakuru County and according to Dr. Wekesa Masasabi, Director General for Health, the event will be advocating for promotion, protection and support to breastfeeding which has the single most impact in child survival.

“The 2019 WBW theme is “empower parents, enable breastfeeding” and is aimed at engaging fathers, partners, families, workplaces, and communities to support, promote and protect breastfeeding.

Speaking  to KNA on phone, Action Against Hunger and Consultant for the Ministry of Health, Mary Kabura Kimani said although there are guidelines on breastfeeding at friendly workplaces to support mothers, there lacks policies to promote.

According to the Health Act 2017, all employers are supposed to establish lactation rooms in the workplace that are adequately provided with necessary equipment and facilities that support women to combine work and breastfeeding.

Ms. Kimani said that although the private sector has been doing well in that area, public government offices are still to attain the required level. “The law is there and is clear considering two or three women are engaged in economic activities outside home in either formal or informal sector,” she noted.

The  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.

“ Mothers need time to bond with their babies even as they are working and this should be done by setting some time for them in the working environment to breastfeed,” she said.

Prof. Oniang’o 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.

“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 said.

The  Government  offices, Prof. Oniang’o noted 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.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus in his message this year says that in addition to their impact on children, family-friendly policies support women’s participation in the workforce, improve their physical and mental health and enhance family well-being.

“Such policies have been shown to increase employee retention, improve job satisfaction, and result in fewer absences. In short, family-friendly policies are good for families, babies and business”, the WHO head said.

WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old. Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years or beyond.

According to the World Bank data, 61 percent of Kenyan mothers breastfeed their children up to six months without introducing other foods making it ahead of other African nations and among countries that have been able to achieve the World Health Assembly target of increasing exclusive breastfeeding by 50 percent by 2025.

However there is still a 39 per cent of Kenyan women who are not breastfeeding exclusively because of return to work early and lack of conducive environments to express and store milk in the workplace or businesses.

By  Wangari  Ndirangu

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