Although the East African country of Kenya boasts a healthy rate of breastfeeding at initial stages, according to a study, it decreases sharply from 84% of infants of age 0-1 month to 42% of infants aged 4-5 months.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on eve of World Breastfeeding Day and Week that starts from Sunday, Elizabeth Kimani, head of the Maternal and Child Wellbeing Unit at the African Population Health Research Center (APHRC), said there are higher chances of morbidity if a child is not exclusively breastfed for the first six months.

“There is also the risk of obesity, as the substitute has been found to have ingredients that increase fat. There are also problems with asthma and getting diseases such as eczema, so breast milk is protective of such kinds of things,” she said.

In rural Nyeri County in Kenya, it has been observed that most families do not stick to exclusive breastfeeding either out of ignorance or challenges in their lives like work shifts, lack of support especially for first-time mothers, and financial issues.

Nyawira Gakuhi, a 24-year-old mother who had taken her child to a hospital in Nyeri county for a check-up, said that she stopped breastfeeding three months after delivery.

Another mother, Lucy Njeri, 33, said that she had breastfed her firstborn for five months, but abandoned because it was exhausting her.

According to APHRC the ignorance and misconceptions are the main reasons behind abandoning breastfeeding especially in urban areas besides socio-cultural factors.

Dr. Dorcas Lealo, a specialist in pediatrics, told Anadolu Agency that extreme poverty also forces mothers to abandon breastfeeding.

“Most of the people in slums and rural areas are living in poverty. The mothers do not have any food to eat to produce enough milk for breastfeeding. I have seen mothers who have to do menial jobs to earn less than $2 a day. They would spend the whole day washing clothes, fetching water, or doing house chores,” he said.

In a bid to address these patterns, the Kenyan government has put several initiatives in place to promote exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a baby’s life.

Experts say that interventions are needed to support urban poor mothers in Kenya to optimally breastfeed.

One of them is the baby-friendly hospital initiative, launched in 1991, which aims to scale up 10 interventions in maternity facilities to support successful breastfeeding. The initiative has been effective in promoting exclusive breastfeeding during the first weeks, but not as effective in sustaining it through to the recommended six months.

In 2016, Kenya launched a Free Maternity Care Program for $49.7 million. The government says the free maternal care services aim to improve access and quality of maternal, newborn, and child health care services towards attainment of Kenya’s Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development agenda.

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