Less than a 100 corporates domiciled in Nairobi have set up breastfeeding centres, marking a sluggish implementation of a legislation which is aimed at boosting six months of exclusive breastfeeding and ensuring a friendly working environment for mothers.
Ministry of Health Division of Nutrition and Dietetics officer Caroline Kathiari told the Business Daily that while the number of firms that have set up lactating rooms has grown over the last three years in the city, the uptake remains dismal.
She pointed out that most corporates with functional breastfeeding centres were acting owing to increased awareness on the importance of these exclusive spaces-especially in boosting the productivity of nursing mothers— and to adhere to the law (Health Act 2017) which called for setting up of the facilities.
Motor assembler Isuzu East Africa, which set up the centre in January last year, says it has seen increased productivity from nursing mothers who are now more settled at work than was the case before.
The move has also gone a long way in attracting and retaining female talent, Isuzu said. “In as much as we are adhering to the law, the move was also informed by our internal assessments where we asked our staff members about various moves that we could take to improve productivity and the environment safer and better for them,” said Isuzu Human Resource Director, Fred Wasike.
“We have seen situations change for the better. The nursing mothers are more at ease, their productivity has improved and are can comfortably exclusively breastfeed for six months. Such friendly internal policies have seen the average number (monthly) of newborns has grown from four in a month to five and staff engagement levels go up by 15 percent to 65 percent and,” said Mr Wasike.
Mabati Rolling Mills which set up a centre for nursing mothers at the head office in Mlolongo two years ago said the wellness centre for mothers was also geared towards ensuring their well-being and the health of babies.
“The space offers convenience to mothers as they have the freedom to express milk at whatever time. It is one of the ways of encouraging exclusive breastfeeding and nursing beyond one year,” said Patience Wekesa of Mabati Rolling Mills.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months and thereafter continue breastfeeding supplementing with complementary feeds until the baby is two years and beyond for optimal growth and development.
Breastfeeding is essential for early childhood development as it supports healthy brain development, decreases risk of non-communicable disease including childhood asthma, obesity, diabetes and heart disease later in life.
World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that a baby be put on the breast within the first hour of birth after delivery.
The early initiation of breastfeeding ensures that the infant receives the colostrum, or “first milk”, which is rich in protective factors.
The standard three-month maternity leave is not enough to promote exclusive breastfeeding.
As corporates move to come up with nursing areas, well fitted with modern appliances including a functional refrigerator and suites for privacy, government entities are still lagging behind in implementing the act.
“Response within public institutions remains low because funds have not been allocated for these spaces. Corporates are working closely with various entities including Kepsa (Kenya Private Sector Alliance) and Unicef who are encouraging them to set-up centres for breastfeeding, this explains why there is a faster adoption amongst them,” said Ms Kathiari. “Companies across Kenya are working hard towards setting up these spaces and we anticipate that they will continue obeying the law. We encourage voluntary moves because we don’t want to get to the point of enforcing the law,” she said.
According to Unicef’s 2018 data, Kenya ranked among the top 10 countries where infants were exclusively breastfed for six months, attaining over 60 percent rate.
The growing number of children being exclusively breastfed for the first months of their lives in Kenya is due to various measures put in place by the government and other stakeholders to encourage nursing mothers to wait before they can introduce food to infants.
Kenyan legislators also passed the Breast Milk Substitutes Act in 2012 that prohibits marketing of complementary for babies and forbids health workers from accepting gifts from formula manufacturers. This has worked well in ensuring that breastfeeding uptake grows in the country but regulations meant to enforce the law to ensure workplaces set up breastfeeding centres are yet to be documented.
In an incident that coincided with the World Breasfeeding Week, Kwale Woman Representative Zuleikha Hassan was yesterday ordered out of Kenya’s Parliament for disrupting the morning session after walking in with her five-month-old baby. “This is my third baby in Parliament; I’ve never done this. I’ve tried really hard not to come with a baby but today I had an emergency so what was I supposed to do; miss parliament and my duties just because I have a baby? That’s why I came with her,” said Zuleikha.
The presiding Speaker ordered her out of the chambers for causing disorder, saying that what had happened was “unprecedented”.
He said the Parliamentary Service Commission has provided sufficient facilities for members to breastfeed their babies and that they are not supposed to carry them into the debating chamber.