This is a story of encouragement. Of a Kenyan career woman, who chose exclusive breastfeeding amidst pressure and expectations of strict work deadlines. Be warned! If you are currently breastfeeding, my story may precipitate those now familiar uncomfortable contractions :The intolerable twitches that accompany the ‘I-feel-like-sneezing’ tickle that insidiously builds up in your breasts when they are full of milk, and yet the baby is away. Let’s not even get started on the accompanying guilt of feeling that you are such a waste, a bad mother even, for not suckling your child when the body is saying yes.
Ok, I admit it, a big may. One thing is for sure though. If you are determined to avoid the path taken by many career women in Kenya who have to introduce formula feeds upon resuming duty, you are in the right place. I’m not a lactation consultant, but my experience with locally available resources should be worth your while.
It wasn’t much about the deadlines, but the being away from home. The traveling never seemed to end round about this time every other year, some moons to the close of the financial year. This last-minute thing — like the notched-at-the-heels bathroom slippers on my slightly swollen feet atop a sorry-looking shaggy mat by foot of a cheap white polyester blend draped, mosquito net covered bed — is a very Kenyan thing.
It was the evening of Day 4 of 5 and I had grown weary of overly tightly tacked in hotel bedspreads. In truth, almost nauseated by the daily mental haggle of whether to charge my phone or watch TV. My abode for the night, was a 12 by 6 meter cream walled cubicle with a busy ceramic tiled floor, plastic flowered ceiling, with a shower thing inset.
The singular single gang socket on the wall opposite the 3 by 6 bed powered my company for the night: A 14′ Chinese flat screen TV hooked on satellite and with bad sound .
The TV background noise filled the room and made it less lonely, but I missed the simple comforts of home. Like how I prefer my towels: slightly used. Or the fluffy rag at home, on my bedroom floor, some 118 kilometers away. My tired, swollen feet missed the snugness after a hard days work in office shoes.
Speaking of rags, I had not been on the rag for a while now. But that’s how it was for me and the cycle. It almost always seemed like ‘Aunt Emma’ visited me when she willed. A doctor friend had suggested that it was the schedule that caused the irregularity. It never worried me that much.
But my chest felt bouncy like a condom filled with water. My nipples taught and bra’s tighter. I had braved a few false positives before. But I did them anyway. Especially after a recent experience where I had not confirmed my joy with a home pregnancy test kit and when the bleeding came late, it made me think that I was losing a pregnancy.
I wear my makeup light and usually a simple wash with beauty soap does it for me. But the daily dust gulping in the past, now four days, deep in the bowls of Kenya’s lake region called for a DIY TLC session. I needed some self-love to survive the last 24 hours.
A quarter kilo of sugar, bought at the Kiosk deep in Chulaimbo was more than enough for my coconut oil-sugar body scrub.Working my way in circular motions down, I had to be gentler as I headed south of my collarbone. The rough rides on rural Kenyan roads had made my boobs hurt but I had blamed it on the hard suspension of the four-wheeler that me and my team rode on.
Even with the cloudiness from the hot shower, it was unmistakable. Just looking at them, the girls, so full, the skin over them so smooth, I felt sixteen all over again. I remembered that darkening of the nipples from my first pregnancy and knew it was time for the test.
GETTING STARTED WITH EXCLUSIVE BREASTFEEDING
Kenya has seen a remarkable growth in exclusive breastfeeding for children under six months old. Data from the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) shows that in 2003, the exclusive breastfeeding rate stood at 13%. This rose to 32% in 2008 and 61.4% in 2014.
This is good news as these statistics at the very least suggest an increasing awareness towards exclusive breastfeeding. They could also be an indication of a growing base of exclusive breastfeeding support for Kenyan mothers. Whilst reading seeking knowledge on how other mums managed to feed their babies on nothing else but breast milk for the first six months of life, these figures gave me encouragement to be part of exclusive breastfeeding wagon.
A journey that I remain grateful to my then employer for their support. Working mothers need the support of their employers in this journey of great public health benefit. My employer made it easy for me to exclusively breastfeed. This was possible as my workplace had a program which allowed for breastfeeding mothers to either clock off early or shave hours off the morning shift.
I found this to be a workable solution that captures the spirit of the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill of 2017 and Kenya Health Bill. It is practical, has low cost implications in the short term and ease of implementation. I urge workers/unions to pursue such compromises. Frankly, devoid of a body/political will/funds to pursue enforcement, and in light of the not so heavy penalties of non-compliance, the aspirations of safe, dignified environment to express breast milk — including the setting up of a lactation place for breastfeeding at work — as idealized in the bill will remain a mirage.
Breastfeeding Support Groups
My third fountain of encouragement to exclusively breastfeed came by way of attendance of a world breastfeeding week forum in my area of residence. It took place around the sixth month of my pregnancy. This forum expanded my worldview that exclusive breastfeeding was doable. In the forum, I listened to uplifting stories from career women who had done it.
One testimony from a magistrate who had a crazy work schedule particularly stuck with me.
She said she managed to exclusively breastfeed her son because she went out of her way to express breast milk (EBM) anywhere she could, including the parking lot. In the forum, I also learned that UNICEF helps organize support groups for breastfeeding mothers. support. I found this information useful as it helped me realize the benefit of building a support network.
Therefore, when the opportunity to join a Facebook pregnancy and lactation support group made up of friends and acquaintances arose, I fully embraced this use of technology in supporting pregnant mothers. There, I found sisters who we walked with through out my pregnancy and even participated in baby showers.
For A More Healthy You
- “I might look okay, but inside I slowly die as COVID-19 attacks ubuntu – the way of life that roots us,” says a young Kenyan
- Africa proof: 3 practical tips budgeting for household and food shopping on a daily wage as COVID-19 threatens to asphyxiate life as we’ve known it
- Africa proof: 5 practical ways Africans can limit spread of coronavirus in public places – Ingenuity and lessons from the continent
FROM TIME, TO MEASURING CUPS AND BREAST MILK PUMPS: AN OVERVIEW OF BREASTFEEDING ESSENTIALS
Poverty, food insecurity, ignorance about best breastfeeding practices and lack of social support are colloquially cited as the main impediments to exclusive breastfeeding in Kenya. My experience as a career woman has come to place the simple concept of time atop this hierarchy of reasons.
Lets be honest here and acknowledge that even in breastfeeding friendly workplaces, poor time management may defeat the whole purpose of hitting the three kill of exclusive breastfeeding: advancing women career progression, achieving optimal infant nutrition and ensuring sustainability of businesses and society at large.
What I did to make the best of time available was that I started planning for my time away from work in the preceding months. I encourage mothers to be to be proactive in finding out how your workplace handles both the mandatory 90 day maternity leave as well as any pending annual leave days and sick offs.
Workplace arrangements for breastfeeding support should be a primary concern also. Nonetheless, even by minimum standards of being allowed only maternity leave, any mother who wishes to exclusively nurse their babies should be encouraged. This is because by the time of resumption of duty after the 90 days, their babies should be on their way to four months. This means that they will have just about two months to go!
As far as utensils go, the cardinal rule is to buy easy to clean cups that you will use for expressing breast milk. The utensils you use should preferably be made of materials that can withstand sterilization by boiling. If within reach, acquire some ice packs (talk to big pharmacies in your locality who cold pack drugs for the possibility to buy gel packs). The ice packs should come in handy during power blackouts.
Moreover, do not forget to purchase feeding cups and cleaning buckets.
My baby ( a friend’s baby too and as I have come to learn quite a number of babies) can’t stand feeding bottles. If you must purchase baby feeding bottles, start off with one to test things out. On my end I found a cup and spoon to do just a good job feeding. However hard I tired, my baby wouldn’t suckle on the feeding bottle. But thereafter I found good use for it as a measuring tool for EBM.
The cost of breast milk pumps make them out of reach for many mums but this shouldn’t be a worry as with the right mentality and simple tricks to encourage milk let down, manual expression of breast milk works just fine. I found manual expression of breast milk difficult. Painful to say the least but disgusting also. I had’nt known that breast milk had a characteristic odor that sometimes nauseated me. Good news though, I got used to it with time. Here is how I acquired the mindset to do overcome this initial drawback that deviates many from the cause and course.
MARGINAL GAINS – THE MIND TRICKS NEEDED TO EXCLUSIVELY BREASTFEED
I made a habit of washing my hands before every breast milk expression. The direct health benefits of hand-washing is common knowledge. Nonetheless, I treasured this ritual because as any surgeon would admit, this mindless action allows for one to get into the right frame of mind for the task ahead. As Pavlov’s dogs taught us, ritualistic action signals the brain to release the rightful juices that will drive the body to desired action.
This simple act’s prominence can’t be ignored. Exclusive breastfeeding means going out of your way to express milk anywhere. It therefore calls for discipline and commitment which might not always be there deep in the throes of corporate life. As you might all appreciate, days like internal audit day by the guys from headquarters surely can’t be a stimulant for milk let down.
Another mind trick I found useful was that I kept reading around exclusive breastfeeding to get more ideas and mentally stimulate myself. Just like when studying for an exam, make use of all the small breaks to feed yourself with spattering of motivation that could comes your way through out the day through books and web articles.
Positivism is all good but you’ve got to consider the drawbacks lest you fall from naivety. Earlier in the article, the first draw back we’ve identified to manual expression of breast milk is the physical discomfort and physical characteristics of the EBM. The second mind killer has to be this one: When you first express breast milk, it is easy to get discouraged with the amounts that you raise. When I first did it, I only managed 22mls.
This might appear to be a very little amount. Until when you realize that when they are still young, that’s enough milk for one feed.
My baby used to feed at least four times between 8:00am to 3:00pm. Before leaving for work, I made sure I had half an hour breastfeeding session with it as I took breakfast thus taking care of one feeding session. Three more to go. Marginal gain.
The EBM amounts kept improving with time. By the time my baby was 5 months I was able to do 180mls! Impressive. It all started withing small incremental increases and my learning of tricks like breastfeeding on one teat, thus taking advantage of the baby’s suckling positive effect on milk let down, as I expressed on the other. Marginal gain.
The baby was not to be fed one hour before my arrival. I’d call home on my way from work. This allowed it not to be too full to breastfeed when I got home. Moreover, this second session of breastfeeding her took care of the last of her standard four feeding sessions. It also allowed me to express milk for tomorrows feeding. With this, yet again, another marginal gain.
8 DO’S AND DON’TS OF EXPRESSED BREAST MILK
- Do everything in your power to never waste EBM. Measure and store EBM in small portions that can be consumed once.
- I started off by storing EBM in 30mls portions to avoid wastage and contamination. 30mls is just about the amount baby can feed on per meal from he fourth months onward. I ensured that the first EBM in the fridge was used first to prevent overstaying. When the baby’s consumption per meal increased, I stored the EBM in portions of both 60mls and 30mls.
- I would remove four packs of 30mls from the freezer and keep them in the refrigerator to thaw for the day. This way all the EBM was safe. We would then thaw one portion at a time during feeding.
- Given that you will not be the one feeding baby in between the breastfeeding sessions, it is important to give simple instructions for easy execution.
- If you live in a country with unreliable power supply, invest in ice packs for back up cooling during those times with power outage. You should ensure that EBM is kept at the center of the fridge and freezer where temperatures are more stable.
- Avoid storing EBM on refrigerator door shelves. There is an increased possibility of drastic temperature changes during power outage and with opening and closing of the fridge with normal use. This principle is borrowed from those that inform cold chain maintenance for vaccines in health facilities.
- When thawing and warming the EBM, I used to put it in boiled water. Do not directly boil EBM. When thawing frozen EBM, you may notice that it sometimes separates. When it does, swirl it gently to mix it.
- Exclusive breastfeeding needs commitment and discipline. It is a labor of love. As a mother who manged to exclusively breastfeed,my prayer is that you too get to enjoy this gift from mother nature.
Know. Own. Be. Live the African Century. Everyday Tips on Life, Style, Entrepreneurship and Careers for the 21st Century African