, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 5 – Nutritionists have raised concern over the minimal rate of exclusive breastfeeding for children below six months of age in Kenya.
Citing the 2003 Kenya Demographic Health Survey, which is the latest data available, Head of Nutrition Division at the Ministry of Public Health Terry Wefwafwa said there were only about 2.6 percent of women exclusively breastfeeding in Kenya.
This was the lowest rate in Africa.
“So out of every 100 mothers at the most three were exclusively breastfeeding,” Ms Wefwafwa said.
“From the preliminary studies that have been going on, we are now seeing an increase where in some communities it is going up to about 30 percent but still it’s not sufficient to have an impact on the infant mortality rates in this country because we need to reach over 70 percent,” she added.
Ms Wefwafwa said lifestyle change was also to blame for the low rates of mothers exclusively breastfeeding their babies.
“Especially for the young mother, it is challenging because she has to balance motherhood and career so when she is pressed with time she doesn’t know what to do and she turns to formula feeds,” she said.
“There is also the issue of fashion where a mother doesn’t want to lose her figure so she will opt out for infant feeds.”
Speaking at an event to mark World Breastfeeding Week, Ms Wefwafwa advocated for more information to be provided to mothers so that they could know breastfeeding was the best way to feed an infant.
She emphasised the need to support mothers even during emergencies to solely breastfeed their infants.
“It is really a challenge because when we are talking of exclusive breastfeeding we want the shift to go to the mother because it is she producing the milk,” she said.
She noted that during emergency situations like the post election skirmishes and the current drought, aid agencies often focused on giving formula feeds for the infants which should not be the case.
“So all aid agencies or all interventions now should make sure that the pregnant and lactating mothers have a ration and are well nourished to produce enough milk,” she suggested.
The World Health Organisation encourages use of appropriate complementary foods alongside breastfeeding after six months.
At the same time, the Kenya Red Cross Society said food insecurity in parts of the country posed the greatest challenge to breastfeeding mothers.
Special Programmes Manager Abdi Shakur said this caused acute malnutrition to some women making them unable to breastfeed.
He said the humanitarian organisation was currently supplying close to 8,500 metric tones of food to about 780,000 persons each month across the country.
“Even though we have been doing a number of humanitarian works in food distribution and support in terms of health care and other programmes, the prognosis is that this scenario is going to continue until the end of the year and generally when mothers are not well fed their ability to breastfeed their child is also affected,” Mr Shakur said.
He added that lack of exclusive breastfeeding programmes by humanitarian organisations left needy parents with no option but to use alternative feeds for their infants.
“There are no programmes that donors finance that specifically handle breastfeeding so it always comes as part of a larger agenda, it doesn’t come as a programme on itself.