Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | While nurses, midwives, pediatricians and other health workers in Uganda everyday keep preaching to mothers to breastfeed their babies exclusively for at least six months, they themselves cannot accord their babies the same care essential for their good health and mental development.
The health workers are the most systemically discriminated when it comes to being able to breast feed their children in the country. In Kampala capital city, only 21 percent of mothers working in formal employment can carry out exclusive breastfeeding.
Exclusive breastfeeding refers to the practice of mothers feeding their newborn babies exclusively on breastmilk for the first six months of their life. Infants in such cases are not given any solids or other liquids like infant formula, cow milk or other milk products like yoghurt, water or even juice as a substitute.
The World Health Organization recommends that at least 99 percent of mothers should breastfeed exclusively. Scientists say that exclusive breastfeeding protects children from diarrhea and common childhood illnesses like pneumonia.
This however is not the case in Uganda. A study that was carried out by the Makerere University Pediatric Department shows that few employed women are able to breastfeed their children.
The most affected mothers are those employed in hospitals and Non-governmental organisations. Findings show that no health worker or other hospital staff carry out exclusive breastfeeding. For NGOs, only 9.1 percent of the mothers employed there are able to breastfeed exclusively followed by those employed in the private sector at 22.2 percent. Only women employed in United Nations agencies were found to be able to breastfeed exclusively for six months.
Dr Joseph Rujumba, the principal investigator of the study says the study shows few women are able to carry out exclusive breastfeeding due to the lack of favourable work policies.
Many mothers were found to only breastfeed exclusively for three months during maternity leave. After that, mothers relied on formula and other substitutes. A few who were able to plan ahead were able to stay home for four months.
“Many mothers had to forgo their annual leave to be able to breastfeed their children for four months, but those who did this were few,” Dr Rujumba said.
Due to unfavourable work policies, many mothers described their breastfeeding experience while working as hard work.
The study was carried out in 70 organisations located in Kampala between July and December 2020.
The findings showed that while all organisations included paid new mothers during maternity leave, few of them provided a conducive environment to help mothers breastfeed. Only 16 organisations had space dedicated to breastfeeding while only 8 of those offered onsite daycare for the children. Only 12 had a policy on breastfeeding.
“At many of the organisations that we visited, there was no formal policy and breastfeeding practices were dependent upon the kind of relationship mothers had with higher-ups,”Dr Rujumba added.
Uganda in 2010 passed the National breastfeeding policy that advocated for the creation of breastfeeding corners among other measures as a means of encouraging exclusive breastfeeding.
Dr Sabrina Kitaka, a Pediatrician and Child Health expert who was also a co-investigator on the study says the government should consider revising maternity and paternity leave days.
“We need to develop a policy that will enable us to increase maternity leave to six months from the current three,” she suggested. “Paternity leave should also be increased from the current four days to one month.”