Promoting breastfeeding to enhance maternal and child health in Kenya

Breastfeeding Room Kenya - Action Against Hunger

The breastfeeding room at Kapenguria Referral Hospital. Photo: Elphas Ngugi for Action Against Hunger, Kenya.

Throughout the day, Jane Muthoni visits the dedicated breastfeeding room at Kapenguria Referral Hospital in West Pokot, Kenya to feed her 10-month old son. The facility provides a comfortable and convenient space for hospital staff to breastfeed during working hours and access educational materials about breastfeeding and child nutrition.

Breastfeeding offers multiple health benefits for babies and their mothers, which in turn means better health for the whole community. It puts babies on a path to healthy development, providing the best possible nutrition and helping them develop a strong immune response to fight off infection. It also protects mothers from diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, and helps strengthen the emotional bond between mother and child. Furthermore, breastfeeding saves families the high cost of formula and eliminates the risk of exposing infants to contaminated water, making it a safer, more economical choice.

The World Health Organization considers breastfeeding one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival and recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age. But for working mothers like Jane, a cleaner at the hospital, balancing professional responsibilities with the commitment of breastfeeding can be a challenge.

“If the breastfeeding room was not there, I would be struggling,” she says. “I would have to leave my child at home and wouldn’t have breaks during the day to go back to breastfeed him. I wouldn’t be sure if the milk I left him was being handled well. It would have been difficult for me.”

Breastfeeding Room Kenya - Action Against Hunger
Jane Muthoni discusses the benefits of breastfeeding with a healthcare worker. Photo: Elphas Ngugi for Action Against Hunger, Kenya.

Action Against Hunger is working to promote breastfeeding and support mothers like Jane through the Systems Enhancement for Transformative Health (SETH) project funded by Global Affairs Canada. We support the construction of breastfeeding facilities and train clinical staff on how to demonstrate the benefits of breastfeeding, share best practices, and foster the establishment of local support groups. These initiatives are helping Kapenguria and other hospitals in Kenya work toward the Baby Friendly Hospital designation and implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.

“What the project does for the members of staff is big,” says Medical Superintendent Dr. David Karuri. “As a facility, we pride ourselves in taking care of the workers at the highest possible level. A lot of our staff are of childbearing age, and as much as we require their professional services after maternity, we also require them to be in their optimum state of mind. As a medical superintendent, the hardest part of my job is to ensure that I am delivering a service to patients that is of the highest quality, of the highest standard. As well, to marry that with the fact that I need to have a motivated staff because at the end of the day, they are the ones who provide the services.”

By supporting and promoting breastfeeding, the SETH project is helping ensure a healthy start for mothers and babies in West Pokot. The project has increased rates of exclusive breastfeeding among mothers in the region and helped address misconceptions about the safety and efficacy of breastfeeding and build healthy dialogue among community members.

“I am grateful for the group that brought the breastfeeding program to Kapenguria Referral Hospital,” says Jane. “Because of that, my child is able to get well breastfed, which is very important for nutrition.”

For Miriam Cherop Mulasiwa, a nutritionist at the hospital, the benefits of the program are clear. “Our breastfeeding room has helped our health care workers to continue to support breastfeeding and it has shown a very good example to other people in the community,” she says, noting that the frequency of infection in babies has declined as a result. “As a nutritionist, I feel so good when I see mothers breastfeeding their babies exclusively and staying with their babies throughout the day. They are so happy and I am also happy.”

Breastfeeding Room Kenya - Action Against Hunger
A nurse helps a young mother position her baby for breastfeeding at Kapenguria Referral Hospital. Photo: Elphas Ngugi for Action Against Hunger, Kenya.

Breastfeeding promotion activities are organized by the Systems Enhancement for Transformative Health (SETH) project, implemented by Action Against Hunger and Helen Keller International with the financial support of Global Affairs Canada. This project focuses on maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition.

Project undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada (GAC).


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