Exclusive breastfeeding. Before I became a mother, I had never heard of it. I knew about breastfeeding, obviously, but not until I was seven months pregnant with my first child, did I learn it was possible to feed a baby only breastmilk for six months.
Most mothers I knew began complementary feeding with porridge and fruits around three months–which often coincided with their return to work after their 90-day maternity leave. Many mothers in rural areas offered their babies cow’s milk or porridge by two months. Certainly, almost all babies I knew were, by four months, happily indulging in fruits and porridge — regardless of whether they were breastfeeding, taking cow’s milk, or for the privileged few, drinking formula.
Could a child survive without even a drop of water? Impossible, I thought. Insane, actually. And even if it were possible, I imagined that the child would suffer from a nutritional deficiency of some sort. But, there was a mother and child on a television news program who appeared to prove me wrong.
I was confused as I listened to that mother and scrutinized her baby. He seemed to be the epitome of good health. He did not look famished or ‘deficient’ in any way. He was healthy to a fault. According to his mother, he hardly fell ill, not even with a common cold.
This mother encouraged new moms to breastfeed exclusively for six months. She was a career mother and had managed to do so. Interesting, I thought, especially because I knew I would be a working mother myself.
Included in the news segment were a peditrician and a nutritionist, both of whom affirmed that breastmilk only was best for baby for the first six months. They said breastmilk contained all the nutritional components needed for a baby’s growth for the first six months.
These people had to be kidding. Even professionals were in agreement with this woman?
I decided that additional research was necessary. I Googled and Googled and Googled some more. It was unanimous: breast milk is best. I began thinking that I would give it a try.
By the time my son arrived two months later in April 2011, I was sold. I exclusively breast fed him for six months, even after I returned to full-time work when he was three months old. I carried a breast pump to work, and expressed milk over my lunch hour. It was the first time my decade-old company had received a request for space to pump. The storeroom, filled with old newspapers, was the best they could offer me.
Suffice it to say that I also managed to exclusively breastfeed my second son, born in April, 2013.
The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding have been well worth it. My sons don’t fall ill often. We saved a significant amount of money because we didn’t have to buy formula, which I would have done if I had not succeeded in exclusively breastfeeding them both. Today, I use all channels within my disposal to campaign for exlusive breastfeeding because I believe it is the best start a mother can give her child.
Just the other day, I was happy to learn that the exclusive breastfeeding rates in Kenya have gone up from 32% six years ago to 61%. Meaning that I and all the other mothers I have managed to inspire through my blog and other advocacy campaigns are among the counted! Yaaaay! That has been the greatest news I have heard in a long while.
Higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding mean that more children get to survive their infancy, fall ill less often, and get to celebrate their first birthdays.
I believe that giving a child a healthy start to life through a good nutritional foundation is one of the best gifts you can offer your child. My sons appear to agree!
Is exclusive breastfeeding common where you live?
This is a post original to World Moms Blog by Maryanne Waweru Wanyama of Mummy Tales in Kenya. Photo credit to the author.