Exclusive Breastfeeding: No Fancy Breast Milk Pump, Breastfeeding Pillows or Bras. The Story of Beating Odds By A Kenyan Career Woman
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, introducing formula feeds upon resuming duty, 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 neatly arranged atop a sorry looking shaggy mat by foot of 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 bedspreads. Almost nauseated by the daily mental haggle of whether to charge my phone or watch TV – – my abode for the night, and the previous three nights, was a 12 by 6 meter cream oil painted cubicle with a busy ceramic tiled floor, plastic flowered ceiling, with a shower thing inset and a singular single gang wall socket that powered my company for the night: the 14′ flat screen TV hooked on satellite and with bad sound .
Moreover, I like my towels slightly used and thus always packed a towel from home to be used throughout the duration of stay away. That way, the probably wart spreading towel problem was solved. But the new use that I had found for the hotel towels, that they would serve fresh everyday, couldn’t compare to the real deal. The towels weren’t just worthy substitutes to 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.
I had not been on the rag but that’s how it was for me and the cycle. It almost seemed like Aunt Emma visited me when she willed. A doctor friend had suggested that it was the traveling that caused the irregularity. So I had no cause of alarm the way my chest felt bouncy like a condom filled with water. That my nipples felt taught and bra’s tighter. Besides, I had braved a few false positives before. The last one had been so scary that the bleeding made me think that I was losing a pregnancy. No need to call the husband yet.
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 if I had any chance of surviving 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 collarbones. 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 allover again. I remembered that darkness 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 rates 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. It could also be an indication of a growing base of exclusive breastfeeding support for Kenyan mothers.
Whilst reading around seeking to learn from other mothers how they 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 as they made it easy for me to exclusively breastfeed through 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 with it’s practicality, lower cost implications in the short term and ease of implementation. I urge workers/unions to pursue such compromises as 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.
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 was around the sixth month of my pregnancy. This forum expanded my worldview that exclusive breastfeeding was doable. In the forum, I listened to stories from career women who had done it. One testimony was 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 learned that UNICEF organizes support groups for breastfeeding mothers that are geared towards peer support. I found this very helpful. as it helped me realize the benefit of joining a Facebook group that a friend recommended. There, I found sisters who we walked with through pregnancy, baby showers and beyond.
From Time to Breast Milk Pumps: What you need to exclusively breastfeed
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: women career progression, optimal infant nutrition and functional businesses/societies.
What I did to make the best of what was available in terms of time was that I started planning my time away from work in the preceding months. Do talk to human resource how best to handle the mandatory 90 day maternity leave as per Kenyan law, any pending annual leave days and workplace arrangements for breastfeeding support. Nonetheless, even by minimum standards of being allowed only maternity leave, it should be motivating to realize that by the time of resumption of duty, your baby will be on her/is way to four months. That means you will have just about two months to go!
Secondly, buy easy to clean cups that you will use for expressing breast milk, Preferably made of materials that can withstand sterilization by boiling. If within reach, acquire some ice packs (talk to big pharmacies who cold pack drugs if they can dispose some unused gel packs) these come in handy in power blackouts. 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 them, start off with one to test things out. Otherwise, I found a cup +/_ a spoon to do just well. My baby wouldn’t feed with the bottle but thereafter I found good use for it as a measuring tool for EBM before storing.
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. At first I found manual expression of breast milk difficult. Painful to say the least but disgusting also. I had not 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 Mindset 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 as 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. Days like internal audit day by the guys from headquarters surely can’t be a stimulant for milk let down.
Keep reading around exclusive breastfeeding to get more ideas and mentally stimulate yourself. Just like when studying for an exam, make use of all the small breaks and spattering of motivation that comes your way through out the day. I used to wake up late in the night to express milk as need arose.
The first draw back we identified to manual expression of breast milk was 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. I only managed 22mls.
That might appear to be a very little amount up to until you realize that when they are still young, that’s enough milk for one feed. That’s a marginal gain
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 before leaving thus taking off one feeding session. Another 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 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 it 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 third months onward. I ensured that the first EBM in the fridge was used first to avoid using overstaying. When the baby’s consumption per meal increased, I stored the EBM in portions of both 60mls and 30mls.
- At first, I would remove four packs of 30mls from the freezer and kept in the refrigerator to thaw for the day. This way all the EBM was safe. We would then thaw one portion at a time.
- Since you will not be the one feeding baby, it is important to give simple instructions for easy execution.
- If you live in a country with unreliable power supply, invest in ice packs to give back up for those times with power outage. Ensure that your EBM is kept at the center of the fridge and freezer where the temperatures are more stable.
- Avoid storing EBM on refrigerator door shelves because of the increased possibility of drastic temperature changes during power outage and with opening and closing of the fridge with normal use. These 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. EBM should not be boiled directly. 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.