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Mothers have a right to breastfeed in public, officials say on World Breastfeeding week

Mothers demonstrate in Nairobi in support of the right to breastfeed in public./SAM WANJOHI

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 4 – Kenya joined the rest of the World in marking the World Breastfeeding week, an annual global event that takes place every first week of August.

The celebrations which took place at Bondeni in Nakuru East Sub County seeks to raise awareness of the health and well-being outcomes of breastfeeding and the importance of supporting mothers to breastfeed for as long as they wish.

Although remarkable growth has been noted in exclusive breastfeeding for children less than six months old at 61 percent in Kenya, the target of 80 percent can easily be reached by fully scaling up the initiatives to create mass awareness of breastfeeding.

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki, in remarks read by the Acting Director of Medical services Pacifica Onyanja said the importance and benefits of breastfeeding cannot be elaborated enough.

With the theme of this year “Empower Parents, enable Breastfeeding” the CS said breastfeeding ensures basic nutrition rights of children and must be supported.

“Breastfeeding reduces infant mortality, increases intelligence and improves school achievement. It also supports a mother’s physical and emotional health,” she said.

Fathers, partners, families and workplaces were also urged to support nursing mothers.

“Breastfeeding has long been viewed as a no-go in the workplace. It seems as though the only option for working, nursing mothers is to either potentially sacrifice the health of their baby due to switching from breast milk to baby formula, or to sacrifice valuable time and money, or even their job,” she said, adding “Breastfeeding in the workplace may be seen as inappropriate and unprofessional to some. However, the health benefits to both the child and the mother are undeniable, along with the potential benefits for the employer.”

Nutritionist, Ministry of Health Caroline Kathiari explained that breastfeeding has both short-term and long-term nutritional benefits for children.

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“Nutrition is central to sustainable development. Good nutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life is critical for child growth, well being and survival, and future productivity.”

“Breast milk is nature’s perfect food. It is universally available. Its benefits last a lifetime, for mother as well as child, Kathiari further highlighted, “ Yet currently less than 40 percent of children worldwide less than six months of age are exclusively breastfed—that is, fed only breast milk with no additional foods or liquids, including water.”

Exclusive breastfeeding levels remain low across Africa. According to UNICEF, West Africa has one of the lowest rates in the world, with countries such as Chad recording 2% and Côte d’Ivoire 4%.

Kenya, however, remains one of only a handful of countries that have been able to achieve the World Health Assembly (WHA) target of increasing exclusive breastfeeding to 50% by 2025. The assembly is the forum that governs the World Health Organization.

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