CHONGO MULANJI, Lusaka
MOTHERS may choose to breastfeed for a variety of reasons and, so varied are their range of experiences. However, one thing is mutual: It helps to have help. Micah Mulanji shares on the support received from her husband when their first child, Danai who is now 6 months old, was born.
“I was not sure if I was going to manage to exclusively breastfeed my little princess but with the encouragement and support from my husband and family, this God-given assignment was made easy. I thank the midwives at Chilonga Mission Hospital who helped to quickly put my baby on the breast as soon as I delivered. However, I did not see anything coming out for the first 12-18 hours after delivering. I then started thinking of formula feeding my daughter but my husband kept on emphasising that I keep putting her to the breast. Finally after about 24 hours, I started seeing something happening as the milk started coming out. By day four and five, I had no control as there was so much breast milk that was coming out. Even those who love to breastfeed need moral and logistical support, especially from their partners. Partners can also step up in unexpected ways when breastfeeding goes wrong, like my husband Chongo did,’’ she said.
It is recognised that each mother’s decision about how she feeds her baby is a personal one. However, in our society, we recognise that the role of various family members (which include fathers, mothers, grandmothers) can also influence her in making decisions that may positively or negatively affect her baby’s health or her own. For example, one of the recommendations to successfully breastfeed is to practise exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life. If a baby is crying too much, family members might suggest to the mother to provide other foods as it may be due to hunger. If the father of the baby insists that the mother continues to breastfeed until health advice is provided, the mother is likely to be more confident.
Although having information about the health advantages of breastfeeding is important, knowing how to breastfeed is crucial. Mothers who may not know how to initiate and continue breastfeeding after a child is born, may fear that it will always be painful or that they will be unable to produce enough milk to fully feed the baby. As a result, they may feed the child inappropriately. For instance, they may give water, light porridge or other food when they are supposed to be breastfeeding exclusively. Breastfeeding support groups in our communities help to inform women about the health advantages of breastfeeding, both for babies and mothers. In addition, community volunteers trained in infant and young child feeding help to explain the process and demonstrate the techniques mothers can use to breastfeed successfully. These include how to comfortably breastfeed in various positions, holding the baby and ensuring the baby feeds correctly on the breast. These community support systems also help to prepare expectant mothers for what they are likely to experience by providing them with accurate information on breastfeeding.
The community plays a major role to influence both young and older mothers. Involving other community players such as community leaders championing promotion of breastfeeding can have a significant effect on breastfeeding practices among women.
There are many barriers to successful breastfeeding in our communities. These are related to inadequate knowledge, myths and misconceptions (such as some breasts are too small to produce enough milk for the baby), poor family and social support, and breastfeeding- related problems e.g. sore nipples, cracked nipples, breast abscess and breast engorgement.
Support during and immediately after childbirth can also help women initiate and continue breastfeeding while working through common concerns related to breastfeeding. This support can be non-medical, but culturally sensitive. For example, care from a fellow mother, grandmother, and husband (like in the case of Micah) may be most effective at encouraging women to breastfeed according to recommendations.
Social marketing in communities influences women’s decision to breastfeed their children. One study found that in years when Parent’s Magazine ran formula advertisements at a higher frequency, the proportion of women who breastfed often decreased in the following year. On the other hand, women who are exposed to marketing that promotes breastfeeding are likely to breastfeed at higher rates.
All these barriers are reversible with total involvement of the community for the health of children and a healthy nation. Breastfeeding and community support concept emphasises that support of family and friends, health care systems, and the community are all essential for a breastfeeding mother to be successful. A multifaceted approach to promoting, supporting and protecting breastfeeding is needed at all levels in the community.
“Remember Breastfeeding is a Foundation of Life”
This article by the Nutrition Association of Zambia is dedicated to all women in Zambia as we celebrate this year’s World Breastfeeding Week from August 1-7 under the theme; “Breastfeeding, Foundation of Life”.
CHONGO MULANJI, Lusaka