NAIROBI, July 22 – The government Tuesday discouraged mothers from using formula feeds as an alternative for breast feeding.
Public Health and Sanitation Permanent Secretary Dr James Nyikal said mothers should exclusively breastfeed their children for the first six months of birth, whether HIV positive or negative.
Dr Nyikal said formula feeds expose babies to diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are the highest cause of child death but can be prevented through exclusive breastfeeding.
“Beyond the six months even if you breast feed exclusively, the child is now too big for just that and that’s why we encourage complementary feeds but there is still value in getting that breast milk. It does not just contain milk like replacement milks, it contains other living things that protect the child from getting sick,” he stated.
According to Professor Ruth Nduati of the University of Nairobi mixed feeding, where a mother uses breast milk and other formula feeds, water or solids on the baby may expose a child born of a HIV positive mother to the virus.
“Mixed feeding for babies who are not exposed to HIV is also dangerous since it increases chances of child mortality,” she stated.
“There is some level of stigmatisation being associated with exclusive breast feeding. It is being labelled as an intervention for HIV infected women. Kenyans must learn that exclusive breast feeding is good for all babies and it is not a sign that a mother is HIV infected or not,” Nduati added.
She said the best way to ensure breastfeeding is safe for a HIV positive mother is by exclusively breastfeeding and ensuring she is on Anti Retroviral treatment (ARV).
“ARV’s reduce the virus in breast milk thus reducing chances of infecting a baby.”
The Professor added that breast milk provides all the nutrients that a child requires; it is the only food that can be fully digested for the baby and also comes with antibodies to protect against infection.
“Breast milk also promotes development of the brain and other body tissues. A child who doesn’t bond with the primary care giver at infancy through breastfeeding lacks confidence and is not able to bond with people.”