Celebrating Success Among Breastfed Babies in Kenya

The story of how one Kenyan mother kept her son healthy and happy with exclusive breastfeeding
Halima’s young son Jirma benefitted from exclusive breastfeeding. Photo: A. Isaac, ACF-Kenya
Halima’s young son Jirma benefitted from exclusive breastfeeding. Photo: A. Isaac, ACF-Kenya

Editor’s Note: This week Action Against Hunger joins the NGO community in celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, running August 1st-7th. See below for a story about some of our work to promote breastfeeding in Kenya, and stay tuned to the blog later this month for more breastfeeding success stories!

In the Borana community in Kenya, some cultural beliefs and practices make exclusive breastfeeding a major challenge for new moms. There is a widely-held belief, for example, that a woman should not breastfeed her child immediately after birth—the fear is that colostrum, the type of milk produced in the first few days after a baby’s birth, will make the child sick. Some locals also believe that the mother’s milk isn’t enough for the baby. Children are therefore given salt and sugar solutions immediately after birth, and later animal milk to supplement the breast milk.

A mother makes a choice for her son

Amid these challenges, Halima Ali, 25, was determined to overcome the barriers and give her first-born child a good start to life. Upon realizing she was pregnant, she started attending prenatal clinics at Garbatulla District Hospital.

“Abdi Huka, the Community Health Worker at the hospital, advised me to join a mother-to-mother support group to get enlightened about childcare practices. He informed me that it would be a great opportunity to interact with mothers who have children, in order to learn good childcare practices from their experiences.”
—Halima Ali, Kenyan mother

Joining the mother-to-mother support group was all she needed to see her through the pregnancy. In addition to the information and messages she received from the health workers and mothers, Halima was encouraged to deliver in the hospital under the care of qualified personnel who would help her initiate breastfeeding within the first hour after delivery.

She was assisted by a nurse in properly attaching and positioning her newborn son, Jirma Ibrahim, and initiating breastfeeding. To her surprise, it took just a few minutes to get her baby to breastfeed. Her fears that the baby would not be satiated were no more, and it was evident she would enjoy nursing the baby.

Amina Webo, a nurse at the hospital who helped Halima deliver the baby notes, ‘‘Most mothers fear that the child will not breastfeed immediately after delivery and let their relatives give newborns water and animal milk, as is their custom. With continuous sensitization of young women, this misinformed practice is slowly dying.”

Keeping the momentum after leaving the hospital

After leaving the hospital, Halima had an easy time nursing Jirma. She resisted pressure from older women and in-laws who felt that the child was not getting enough breast milk. Her husband fully supported her, and encouraged her to continue breastfeeding the child.

Halima soon discovered that the notion that she would not provide enough breast milk was false. ‘‘My child used to nurse for long hours. I noticed that as he continued breastfeeding, I produced more and more milk as time went on,’’ she added with a smile.

Today 13-month-old Jirma is a healthy and strong boy and a good example of breastfeeding success in the Borana community.

‘‘Jirma rarely gets sick,” Halima said. “I am confident he has high immunity thanks in no small part to being breastfed. I’m so glad I learned how.”

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About Aziza Isaac

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Aziza is Action Against Hunger's Nutrition Program Assistant in Kenya, working at our base in Isiolo County.