Nearly half of the mothers in Kiryandongo District don’t exclusively breastfeed their children for up to six months, as medically recommended, according to a survey conducted by health officials in the district.
Exclusive breastfeeding refers to giving breast milk to an infant, without any additional food or drink, in the first six months of their life. The practice has been famed as one of the essential actions for infant development and survival and one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival.
But the annual food security and nutrition survey conducted between March and April this year reveals that only 58.2 per cent of mothers in host communities exclusively breastfeed their children while 41.8 per cent don’t. The survey also showed that only 37 per cent of refugee mothers in the Kiryandongo Refugee settlement, home to some 75,857 refugees mostly from South Sudan exclusively breastfeed their babies.
Michael Balimugulira, the Kiryandongo District Nutrition Focal Person says the survey points to a startling drop in exclusive breastfeeding among mothers that stood at 70 per cent in the whole district last year.
The survey also reveals that few mothers timely introduce their babies to semi-solid and solid food at the completion of six months of life. Within the host community, the survey found that only 32 per cent of mothers timely introduce their babies to semi-solid and solid food while in refugee settlements, 36 per cent of the mothers timely introduced their babies.
Balimugilira says the trend is worrying and directly puts the lives of infants at great risk of catching diseases, stunting, and even death. He says preliminary findings indicate that the high food prices and farming season where women prioritize agriculture over their babies could be partly contributing to the vice.
Countries Worldwide are marking the world Breastfeeding week which commenced on August 1 and ends on August 7 to generate public awareness and support for breastfeeding. In Kiryandongo, World Breastfeeding Week was celebrated at Opok Primary School in Kicwhabugingo Parish, Kiryandongo Sub-county on Friday with Support from Action Against Hunger (ACF).
The District Health Officer Kiryandongo Dr Mutyaba Imaam says the district has a diverse ethnic composition and predicts the cultural differences could have an influence on how mothers breastfeed their children. Dr Mutyaba however says they were yet conducting studies to ascertain the exact reasons why few mothers are exclusively breastfeeding their babies.
He says that the district is working around the clock to address the knowledge gap among the mothers on the different aspects of nutrition since exclusive breastfeeding improves the growth, and the survival status of newborns and prevents disease.
Some of the breastfeeding mothers in the district however say the increase in food prices coupled with the poverty situation has forced them not exclusively to breastfeed their babies.
Ramla Anena, a breastfeeding mother and resident of Kicwhabugingo Parish says many mothers like her don’t have enough money to buy nutritious food that allows them to produce enough breastmilk for their babies for up to six months. Anena says they are forced to introduce the babies to semi-solid and solid foods before six months to supplement their diet due to lack of breast milk.
Acirocan Paska, another breastfeeding mother and resident of Kicwhabugingo Parish, says she is supplementing her three-month-old baby’s feeding with cow milk since she can’t produce enough breast milk. Acirocan says she can’t afford to eat nutritious meals to enable her to produce enough breast milk for the baby.
To supplement the vulnerable women’s diet in both the host community and refugee settlement, some of the women have been trained on the best agricultural practices for growing nutritious food to boost the breastfeeding of babies.
Sarah Namuli, a Nutrition officer at Action Against Hunger (ACF) says under the organization’s Optimized Land Utilization Model (OLUM) project, women have been trained to maximize production on a minimal piece of land. She says through the approach, the benefiting women are given free vegetable seedlings to grow vegetables and rabbits to rear.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly two out of three infants globally are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months—a rate that has not improved in two decades. This year’s World Breastfeeding Week is being marked under the theme “Step up for Breastfeeding, Educate and Support”.