Local NGO Sets Up Breastfeeding Room At Parliament

IN a move that is likely to bring convenience to breastfeeding female legislators and parliament employees as well as boost nutritional needs for babies, the Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (ZCSOSUNA) is in the process of finalizing the setting up of a lactation room inside the Zimbabwe Parliament premises.

By Michael Gwarisa

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a child should be exclusively breastfed for six months and the first 1000 days of an infant are most crucial in the brain development and general development of the baby. The lactation or breastfeeding room will allow female parliament employees and legislators to express breast milk and store it in clean containers under a well refrigerated and secure environment for feeding their babies in a bid to cut on feeding babies milk formulas and solids within the first six months after birth, a period where a baby should be exclusively breastfed.

In an Interview with HealthTimes on the sidelines of a CODE monitoring and Planning meeting in the capital, Harare, ZCSOSUNA National Coordinator, Mr Kudakwashe Zombe said the country’s maternity leave does not give women enough time to breastfeed their children exclusively for six months hence the need for innovative means to accommodate working class women through creating parent friendly workstations.

We have engaged with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Health and that of Labor, Public Service and Social Welfare and we have also had engagements with the Clerk of Parliament in trying  to roll out this initiative.

“So we have been given an approval to establish the parent friendly room.  Our approval came out last year in December, and we have also started acquiring the material and equipment to be used in the rooms and we hope that by end of this month, that is February, we should have held a handover ceremony at Parliament and this room should be working by end of this month,” said Mr Zombe.

The initiative is being funded under the Save the Children United Kingdom (UK) Research and Innovation Fund.

“We want Parliament to take center stage in rolling out parent friendly work stations which will support and promote breastfeeding of infants and young children at workplaces. We have noted as an organization that some women are failing to adopt breastfeeding because the environment is not promoting breastfeeding.

“We have also noted that the maternity protection or the maternity leave in not adequate for women to practice breastfeeding because women are given 90 days of maternity leave and yet we say they should exclusively breastfeed their children for six months and continue breastfeeding up to 24 months and even beyond.”

He added that in most cases when breasts are engorged, they cause pain and discomfort to women and in most workplaces around Zimbabwe where breastfeeding is not prioritised, female employees end up discarding their breast milk in toilets. The lactation room according to Zombe gives women the convenience to express their milk freely and should it also happen that the baby is in the vicinity, the lactation room also allows for women to breastfeed their babies.

“So we thought that if the environment where women are working is supportive of breastfeeding, women can continue with the practice of breastfeeding. We are trying to ensure that parliament takes on board this initiative and it roles it out to other ministries and the private sector. If the environment is parent friendly, women are likely to continue breastfeeding because they can express breast milk and they can store it and then take it home so that children can have that breast milk.

“However, if we are to check the current environment, women have to go to the toilet and excrete the breast if their breasts get engorged with milk. So the environment is not supportive and also if they express in a safe environment, there is nowhere to store that breast milk, so women experience challenges in storing but with the rolling of the parent friendly rooms, women can store it and then they can take it home so that children have adequate nutrition,” he said.

Meanwhile, there is Code of ethics that has been set aside by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to ensure manufacturers of formulas do not force heir products on breastfeeding women through unnecessary advertisement and promotion of the substitutes such as formulas and other cereals.

Speaking on the Code, Nutritionist and Researcher in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Nutrition Department, Mr Dexter Chagwena said the Code had come to level the playing field and ensure corporates do not profiteer at the expense of the health of infants and that of the population in general.

[pullquote]“When you look at the science behind this code even the practice, you find that in countries where the code is weak, you then find out that there is a lot of unnecessary use of infant formula. When there is a lot of unnecessary infant formula use, in most cases it happens in areas where Water, Sanitation and Hygiene issues are not very good.[/pullquote]

“Energy is also an issue because you are supposed to heat the milk as well. In most cases where aggressive marketing of infant formula is high, breast feeding rates tend to go down, and as long as breastfeeding issues are going down it affects a lot of issues such as malnutrition, or other child health outcomes. From a broader perspective, you can actually see that by just allowing these companies to do what they do, they make money at the expense of the health of the infant population and also at the expense of the people,” said Mr Chagwena.

Nutrition expert and academic, Dr Tonderayi Matsungo  weighed in saying promotion and advertising of breast milk substitutes was not only leading to the deprivation of the much needed nutrients in babies but was also exposing the little one to a plethora of health complications.

“If mothers are practicing exclusive breastfeeding for six months, on its own it is sufficient to provide all the necessary nutrients and everything that a child needs in develop g without any complications. We would like to protect that understanding and advantage of breast milk so that we don’t have substitutes coming in to disrupt mothers from practicing ecl8sngf breast feeding or continuing breastfeeding for up to two years.

“There are also dangers now of introducing these breast milk substitutes for example diarrhoea. You know in our context, in most settings, mothers will end up using unsafe water to actually prepare these alternatives and this brings harms like diarrohoea and other health complications which is something that we we don’t want,” said Dr Matsungo.









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