Exclusive breastfeeding. Before I became a mother, I had never heard of it. I knew about breastfeeding, obviously, but not until I was seven months pregnant with my first child, did I learn it was possible to feed a baby only breastmilk for six months.
Most mothers I knew began complementary feeding with porridge and fruits around three months–which often coincided with their return to work after their 90-day maternity leave. Many mothers in rural areas offered their babies cow’s milk or porridge by two months. Certainly, almost all babies I knew were, by four months, happily indulging in fruits and porridge — regardless of whether they were breastfeeding, taking cow’s milk, or for the privileged few, drinking formula.
Could a child survive without even a drop of water? Impossible, I thought. Insane, actually. And even if it were possible, I imagined that the child would suffer from a nutritional deficiency of some sort. But, there was a mother and child on a television news program who appeared to prove me wrong.
I was confused as I listened to that mother and scrutinized her baby. He seemed to be the epitome of good health. He did not look famished or ‘deficient’ in any way. He was healthy to a fault. According to his mother, he hardly fell ill, not even with a common cold.
This mother encouraged new moms to breastfeed exclusively for six months. She was a career mother and had managed to do so. Interesting, I thought, especially because I knew I would be a working mother myself.
Included in the news segment were a peditrician and a nutritionist, both of whom affirmed that breastmilk only was best for baby for the first six months. They said breastmilk contained all the nutritional components needed for a baby’s growth for the first six months.
These people had to be kidding. Even professionals were in agreement with this woman?
I decided that additional research was necessary. I Googled and Googled and Googled some more. It was unanimous: breast milk is best. I began thinking that I would give it a try.
By the time my son arrived two months later in April 2011, I was sold. I exclusively breast fed him for six months, even after I returned to full-time work when he was three months old. I carried a breast pump to work, and expressed milk over my lunch hour. It was the first time my decade-old company had received a request for space to pump. The storeroom, filled with old newspapers, was the best they could offer me.
Suffice it to say that I also managed to exclusively breastfeed my second son, born in April, 2013.
The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding have been well worth it. My sons don’t fall ill often. We saved a significant amount of money because we didn’t have to buy formula, which I would have done if I had not succeeded in exclusively breastfeeding them both. Today, I use all channels within my disposal to campaign for exlusive breastfeeding because I believe it is the best start a mother can give her child.
Just the other day, I was happy to learn that the exclusive breastfeeding rates in Kenya have gone up from 32% six years ago to 61%. Meaning that I and all the other mothers I have managed to inspire through my blog and other advocacy campaigns are among the counted! Yaaaay! That has been the greatest news I have heard in a long while.
Higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding mean that more children get to survive their infancy, fall ill less often, and get to celebrate their first birthdays.
I believe that giving a child a healthy start to life through a good nutritional foundation is one of the best gifts you can offer your child. My sons appear to agree!
Is exclusive breastfeeding common where you live?
This is a post original to World Moms Blog by Maryanne Waweru Wanyama of Mummy Tales in Kenya. Photo credit to the author.
While I still have the opportunity to write another post for the WMB community before leaving Laos later this year, I feel compelled to tell you about child nutrition and the problem of stunting in Laos because stunting is a seemingly invisible problem that can go unnoticed unless special attention is drawn to highlight the issue.
Ethnically, most Southeast Asian people are shorter and have a smaller frames than most other races throughout the world. This fact makes it easy to say that Lao babies and children tend to be small or smaller because of their race.
Yet at first glance Lao children appear to be healthy (and super cute), a closer look and personal interaction will almost always reveal that the children are a few years older than what you had first assumed. I recently met an adorable girl in a northern village at a school where I delivered books by boat since there is no road access to her village. Upon speaking with her (in Lao) I was impressed by how well behaved, articulate and “mature” she was for what I assumed to be a 6-year old. (I have two 4-year old twins so I was instantly optimistic about their potential in just two short years to be as well behaved as this girl.) She turned out to be 10-years old. This has happened time and time again to me, to my colleagues, and to many newcomers to Laos.
Lao children are among the most undernourished in Southeast Asia with 44% stunting of children under 5-years old. It is the single largest contributor to infant and child mortality in the country with 59% of all child deaths related to nutritional deficiencies. Chronic malnutrition predisposes children to higher morbidity and mortality, lower educational attainment, and reduced workforce productivity.
For a country experiencing rapid economic growth and increasing income disparities, fierce external human resource competition puts the country at risk of leaving a majority of the Lao population behind others who will be more able to keep apace. Stunting is a problem that needs be addressed for the immediate wellbeing of Lao children and to be resolved for the future potential of the Lao people.
The Lao government is working closely with experts and development partners on how to tackle this important issue. It is not easy. Poor breast-feeding and weaning practices are widespread. Almost all mothers give food supplements (such as chewed glutinous rice), and pure water, to infants within a few weeks of birth. Harmful practices (such as discarding colostrum) and other food taboos for pregnant women reduce disease resistance for newborns and increase fetal undernutrition. Micronutrient deficiencies, inadequate intake of vitamin A, anemia and iodine deficiency, all further hinder child development.
The current health system is not only faced with challenges of delivering micronutrients, immunizations and necessary vitamins to the most vulnerable population, but they are additionally burdened by the daunting task of changing people’s behaviors to improve dietary habits, increase nutritional intake, and overcoming cultural belief and religious belief obstacles to improved nutrition status among rural and multi-ethnic communities. The task is daunting.
What is being done and what needs to be done?
There are some great organization here making slow but successful strides on a small-scale basis. UNICEF, WFP, IFAD, Save the Children, the Scale Up Nutrition initiative and others who are collaborating closely with government health officials, but resources are scarce, especially in an often overlooked country like Laos.
- We can channel financial support to these organizations for their work on nutrition in Laos.
- We can lobby our governments to increase foreign assistance resources to address the poor state of healthcare in Laos (e.g., Laos is not one of the United States’ ‘priority countries’ receiving Global Health Initiative (GHI) funding. Ask U.S. representatives, Why not?)
- We can voice our concern to private and public interests who are taking advantage of opportunities in Laos to improve their social welfare practices by investing in better healthcare in communities where they pursue their business interests.
- We can ask the question to anyone willing to listen about who should be accountable to improving the welfare of children beginning their lives under such great odds in Laos.
Hopefully someday, someone will listen and take action.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer, Dee Harlow in Vientiane, Laos. You can always find her writing on her blog, Wanderlustress.
Photo credit attributed to the author.
We have all heard the slogan “breast is best” but it is not always the easiest. As mothers, we all know that breastfeeding is most natural, and, in theory should be the simplest, most efficient way to feed our babies. However, this is not always the case for every mother and baby pair. As a mom of two boys, Chase who is almost five, and Samuel who was born 5 months ago, I have had both a wonderful experience and a tremendously challenging one nursing my children.
My older son nursed beautifully from the outset. After a scheduled induction and a fairly easy labor I started to breastfeed him within the hour. He latched perfectly right away and there was never any breastfeeding trouble. I was able to feed him this way for his first year of his life and I loved knowing that I was providing him with the most natural source of nutrition that I could and I also loved the bond that we shared while I was nursing. (more…)
Before I got pregnant, I had one fear, and it was never about childbirth: I was terrified of breastfeeding. I am not sure where it came from, or what specifically made me go into panic mode about it, but it almost looked unnatural to me. Having spent so much time in Asia, breastfeeding was just not seen or done much in public. I also don’t have many younger cousins, so naturally, I wasn’t exposed to it.
When I got pregnant, I spent months plagued with anxiety, researching and keeping my breastfeeding fears to myself. I finally blurted it all out during a big, pregnant “I-am-not-fit-to-be-a-Mother” meltdown in front of my husband. He tried not to laugh, and asked “Is this your only concern?” I had to pause, and think. Well, yes, I was set about everything else. But for some reason, breastfeeding just freaked me out! (more…)
This Saturday Sidebar Question had me thinking about and reliving my birthing experiences.
When my son was born, I had been having contractions for several months. I knew they were Braxton Hicks, but they were so regular for so long, even my doctor was concerned. I had a scheduled date for my c-section (I have a bad back, so was told from the onset that I would have to have a Caesarian), but my son didn’t want to have anything to do with my schedule – much like he has been ever since that amazing November day. So about a week before we were scheduled to go in, my contractions increased, while I was working at home, and on the phone with a client. I remember telling her “ask me whatever else you need to know about, since I am going into labor now and you won’t be talking to me for the next 3 months”. 🙂 (more…)
Last week, a few breastfeeding advocate friends of mine alerted me and other moms to the fact that September 24th through the 30th of this year is World Milksharing Week. According to the official website, World Milksharing Week is held annually during the last week of September with this goal in mind: “to celebrate milksharing and to promote human milk as the biologically normal nourishment for babies and children.” You can read more about how the idea for this came about here. The theme for this year’s Milksharing Week is “Sharing Milk, Nurturing Community.”
Even though I consider myself pro-breastfeeding (I don’t think I can qualify as a true-blue advocate yet) and even have quite a number of blog posts about it, milksharing is something that I never really gave a serious thought about before. That was, until I read about breast milk donations, especially during times of emergencies. (You can read a bit about them here and here.) I realized that breastfeeding truly does save lives and formula milk donations could prove hazardous to the health of children affected by disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes.
Think about it: When people are stuck in evacuation centers or refugee camps, there is usually a shortage of food supplies and clean water. Diarrhea outbreaks are very common and spread easily due to the lack of proper health care and sanitation systems. According to this article on Protecting babies in emergencies: the role of the public, “babies who are not breastfed are very likely to contract diarrhea-causing illnesses from unclean water and, with a weakened immune system and limited treatment, many will die.” (more…)