Many mothers understand the slogan that “Breast Is Best” because the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding to both baby and mother are well documented. For instance, breast milk provides babies with essential nutrients and antibodies that cannot be found in any other substitute, including infant formula milk. The act of breastfeeding not only promotes bonding but also triggers the release of hormones within a mother that can lower the risk of her getting certain cancers and diseases.
Fortunately, the benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond baby and mother, to society at large. This is the message that is being spread during this year’s World Breastfeeding Week celebrations that will be held from 1st – 7th August 2016.
The purpose of the celebrations is to anchor breastfeeding as a key to sustainable development by 2030, so that by understanding how breastfeeding links to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations, we can also truly understand why “Breast is Best”.
Of the 17 SDGs proposed by the United Nations, Kenya chose to focus on the 5 goals that matter most to the country, namely:
- Agriculture and Food security
- Employment and Enterprise
- Universal Education and Gender
These 5 goals are echoed in the main themes of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week:
- Nutrition, Food Security and Poverty Reduction
- Survival, Health and Wellbeing
- Environment and Climate Change
- Women’s Productivity and Employment
Breastfeeding impacts on the goals and themes listed above through the benefits it provides to babies and mothers. For instance, for low-income families, a mother who is able to exclusively breastfeed her baby for the first 6 months of life saves money because breast milk is ‘free’ and she does not need to look for or buy additional food for the baby. Also, the high nutritional value of breast milk and the antibodies it provides increases the chances of a baby’s survival because it reduces the chances of a baby developing diseases such as diarrhea, thus also reducing the money spent on health care and time a mother has to take off work to look after her baby.
In Kenya, the impact of breastfeeding on women’s productivity and employment was highlighted when Parliament approved a bill forcing employers to provide special breastfeeding areas for working mothers . By doing so, productivity will increase because a working mother will be able to focus on meeting her goals at work and at the same time, provide the nutrition her baby needs to remain healthy.
In relation to the environment and climate change, breast milk does not require the construction of factories and it does not contribute to littering because its packaging is ‘natural’, not in plastic or metal tins. The use of substitutes usually also requires a sustainable source of clean water and additional resources, which may not be accessible to a mother with little to no income.
It is for the reasons listed above, and many more, that a group of breastfeeding counsellors and lactation educators are using the slogan #KenyaIsLatchingOn to raise awareness about the far reaching benefits of breastfeeding and its impact on sustainable development. We have promised to protect, promote and support breastfeeding because we understand how breastfeeding can help Kenya meet its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
During World Breastfeeding Week, we will be visiting maternity wards at 2 major hospitals in Nairobi to spread the word amongst mothers and the staff. As qualified breastfeeding advocates, we know we can contribute to the efforts being made to meet the SDGs by providing mothers with the information and support they may need to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first 6 months of life, and in addition to the appropriate foods, until their children are at least 2 years old.