, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 1- Statistics contained in the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey indicates that more than 11,000 children under the age of five die annually due to poor breastfeeding practices.
The report reveals that only 32 percent of Kenyan children are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life a move that saw infant mortality drop by 19 percent in the last year.
Beyond Zero Campaign advocate Catherine Mueke is encouraging expectant mothers to breastfeed their children as a key intervention for improving child survival.
Speaking at the World Breastfeeding Week event held at Pumwani Hospital, she said this move will potentially save about 20 percent of children under five years done as the optimal way of feeding infants in the first six months of life.
“Adequate provision of nutrients, beginning in the early stages of life is considered crucial to ensure good physical and mental development. Breast feeding is unequaled way of providing ideal food for the health, growth and development of infants. This calls for concerted efforts in advocacy, especially by key policy-makers, stakeholder’s, health workers, private sector and the general community in order to support mothers to successfully breastfeed their children,” she said.
“Breastfeeding has also been known to give various benefits to the mother as it results in faster recovery after delivery, reduces blood loss following delivery as well, reduced maternal stress, faster loss of excess weight and reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer.”
Director of Medical Services Nicholas Muranguri said exclusive breastfeeding together with antiretroviral therapy for mothers and babies can reduce the transmission of HIV from mother to child to a very low level.
“I want to arraign the misconception that is within the community that mothers who are HIV positive should not breastfeed their children. This is not true! Even HIV infected mothers who exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months have their babies having a better survival if they do so,” he said.
“It is important for all women to be counseled and tested for HIV during pregnancy so that they can be given information on how to best prevent infecting the baby if they are HIV positive. This can be when pregnant women go to clinic for antenatal care, as soon as they know of their pregnancy.”
The study also revealed that Kenya loses more than Sh76 billion every year treating three major, but preventable diseases caused by improper breastfeeding. The three include Otitis media, lower respiratory tract infections, and gastrointestinal illnesses.
Head of Nutrition and Dietetics Unit, Terrie Wefwafwa says the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous because breast milk is readily available and affordable to all whether rich or poor.
“Colostrum is the initial fluid from the mother’s breast immediately after delivery and is the instant immunisation the baby gets immediately it is born. In the first six months of life, breast milk offers optimal nutrition for the infant because it is safe even in case of any illness. It is a process that enhances bonding between mother and child. Breastfed babies also have notable milestones compared to babies who have been fed on alternative feeds,” she said.
Mary Natenya a member of a mother support group at the Pumwani Hospital says she has learnt a lot on the benefits of breastfeeding and is encouraging other mothers to follow suit.
“My first two children were always sick and I was on and off the nearest hospital for their medical checkups. I did not breastfeed them in fact I introduced other foods to them when they were three months which I now realize that was the reason,” she explained.
“Through the discussions, I learnt of the importance of breastfeeding and also how to express milk whenever I was away. Now with my youngest child I have opted to breastfeed him exclusively.”