Jane Muthoni works as a cleaner at Kapenguria Hospital in West Pokot, Kenya. Throughout the day, she visits the dedicated breastfeeding room to check in on and feed her 10-month-old daughter. It’s a comfortable and convenient space for female hospital staff to safely leave their children while working, to breastfeed during working hours, and to access educational materials about breastfeeding and child nutrition.
Breastfeeding puts babies on a path to healthy development by providing optimal nutrition and helping them to develop a strong immune system. It also protects mothers from diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, and helps to strengthen the emotional bond between mother and child. Additionally, breastfeeding saves families money they might spend on formula and eliminates the risk of exposing infants to contaminated water, making it a safer, more economical choice.
The World Health Organization considers breastfeeding one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival and recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age. But, for working mothers like Jane, balancing professional responsibilities with the commitment of breastfeeding can be a challenge.
“If the breastfeeding room was not there, I would be struggling,” she says. “I would have to leave my child at home and wouldn’t have breaks during the day to go back to breastfeed him. I wouldn’t be sure if the milk I left him was being handled well. It would have been difficult for me.”
Action Against Hunger promotes breastfeeding and supports mothers like Jane through the Systems Enhancement for Transformative Health (SETH) project funded by Global Affairs Canada. Our teams train clinical staff on how to demonstrate the benefits of breastfeeding, share best practices, and foster the establishment of local support groups.
“What the project does for the members of staff is big,” says Dr. David Karuri, Medical Superintendent at Kapenguria Hospital. “As a facility, we pride ourselves in taking care of the workers at the highest possible level. A lot of our staff are of childbearing age, and as much as we require their professional services after maternity, we also require them to be in their optimal state of mind…The hardest part of my job is to ensure that I am delivering a service to patients that is of the highest quality, of the highest standard. As well, to marry that with the fact that I need to have a motivated staff because at the end of the day, they are the ones who provide the services.”
By supporting and promoting breastfeeding, the SETH project helps ensure a healthy start for mothers and babies in West Pokot. The project has increased rates of exclusive breastfeeding among mothers in the region and helped to address misconceptions about the safety and efficacy of breastfeeding and to build healthy dialogue among community members.
“I am grateful for the group that brought the breastfeeding program to Kapenguria Referral Hospital,” says Jane. “Because of that, my child is able to get well breastfed, which is very important for nutrition.”
For Miriam Cherop Mulasiwa, a nutritionist at the hospital, the program’s benefits are clear. “Our breastfeeding room has helped our health care workers to continue to support breastfeeding and it has shown a very good example to other people in the community,” she says, noting that the frequency of infection in babies has declined as a result. “As a nutritionist, I feel so good when I see mothers breastfeeding their babies exclusively and staying with their babies throughout the day. They are so happy, and I am also happy.”
Breastfeeding promotion activities are organized by the Systems Enhancement for Transformative Health (SETH) project, implemented by Action Against Hunger and Helen Keller International with the financial support of Global Affairs Canada. This project focuses on maternal, newborn, and child health and nutrition.