Today I read quite an interesting article about how ‘Breastfeeding is a grey area for Ugandan mothers’. Namubiro’s article is from 2009 but still relevant for today. She makes a very good point – which is also widely acknowledged – a lot of mothers in Uganda stop breastfeeding early, a lot of them exclusively breastfeed for only a few months, some give pre-lacteals. These practices, that could be improved according to WHO standards, have some role to play in child survival and child development.
For me, talking about breastfeeding is a dangerous territory, as we are quick to attribute responsibility to the mother – and putting mothers at risk of probably the worst accusation of ‘being a bad mother’.
From Namubiro’s article:
“Asked whether she breastfeeds exclusively, Ayio says she does. On further probing however, she reveals that she gives him cow milk once in a while. “I gave him cow milk only twice” she says defensively when friends around her laugh.”
“Ayio is doing better than her neighbour Sharon Apolot who has just fed her one-day-old baby on almost half a mug of sugar water.”
Both Ayio’s friends and to some extent the author are judging the mothers. To improve the nutritional status of newborns and toddlers it is important to empower mothers, but also their communities. Namubiro for example talks about the fact that “the best and most nutritious food is given to the father”. Infant feeding isn’t just the mother’s business- she needs an environment that helps her make the best choices for her baby!
While it is important to give every mother the information she needs to do the best thing for her baby (none of us is born the perfect mother, we all have to learn it!), there is more to improving breastfeeding practices, such as:
providing her environment with breastfeeding information – her mother-in-law, her mother, her partner, her sisters…
giving the mother the possibility to breastfeed at work and in public spaces
providing breastfeeding support in case of breastfeeding problems
making the first baby foods more affordable …