Poor breastfeeding and infant feeding practices are to blame for more than 10,000 deaths per year in Kenya.
According to Prof. Rose Kamnewa, an Assistant Professor of Paedriatics and Child Health at Aga Khan University Hospital, the deaths rank Kenya among countries with high rates of under-five mortality.
“Let all women breastfeed because it is associated with the improved child cognitive development since the milk has all the minerals than animal milk,” Prof. Kamenwa said during a scientific meeting on breastfeeding in Nairobi.
She observed that exclusive breastfeeding is the most effective preventive intervention for ensuring child survival as it is capable of preventing 13 percent of all deaths for children under-five years of age.
She further noted that the introduction of appropriate complimentary foods is important for child survival and has a potential to avert six percent of the deaths in children.
“Breastfed children are less likely to experience childhood leukemia, type 1 and 11 diabetes and obesity,” Prof. Kamenwa added.
She revealed that breastfeeding is low in the informal settlements in Nairobi as most women abstain from caring for their children due to lifestyle choices.
“Child nutrition, immunization and where to deliver the babies should not be a choice,” Prof. Kamenwa said.
She disclosed that breast milk can stay safe for eight hours if well preserved away from the breasts and warned that it should not be kept in the fridge for more than 24 hours.
A research Economist at the Central Organization of Trade union (COTU) Dr. Isaaih Mucheke called for the enactment of regulations in the country to help protect pregnant employees, breastfeeding employees and those who apply for special maternity leave.
“Employers must start swapping expectant employees to other departments without discrimination,” he said.
He called on the government to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) in regard to female employee’s application for leave.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that a child should be breastfed for a period of two years. This is to help reduce the risk of contracting killer diseases at early age.
During the meeting, medics called on employers to be serious in their support of child survival, working mother’s health and contribute to stunting in Kenyan children.
They said that the working environment should provide facilities for nursing mothers to breastfed their children.
They appealed to the government and communities to provide supporting legal and social framework.
According to Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) of 2014, exclusive breastfeeding rates at six months have improved to about 60 percent.
However, even with this current exclusive breastfeeding rate, the implication is that four out of 10 Kenyan infants are being exposed daily to an increased risk of disease and have lowered immunity because they consume foods and drinks other than breast milk before six months of age.