By Francis Ewherido

In the process of bringing a child into the world, there are mainly two experiences that the women find pleasant. The first is the sexual encounter that kick starts the process.

The second is the joy the mother feels after the birth of the baby, especially first time mothers. This is especially so when these two encounters take place within matrimony.

Sandwiched between the two pleasurable experiences are a lot of unpleasant experiences, starting with the morning sickness at the initial stages of conception. Then you have nausea and all the incessant spitting that go with it.

There are the pains and discomfort of pregnancy. Some women become bloated like balloons. Some are put on bed rest. And then the mother of all pains: labour. The natural delivery of a baby is tough business any day. I am yet to hear of a woman smiling in the labour room while in labour. Screaming and the abusing of the culprits, sorry husbands, sound more like it.

After going through all these hassles to bring forth a child into the world, I cannot understand why the mother will deny the child the best food for a new born baby. This food does not even cost her a kobo to purchase.

Now the World Health Organization and other bodies have set aside a whole week, August 1–7, every year to beg, cajole and encourage mothers to breast feed and improve the health of their babies. Breast feeding your babies provides all the nutrition they need in the first six months of life. It also takes care of their hunger and thirst simultaneously.

I was exclusively fed on breast milk from birth until six months. I continued sucking until age two, according to Mama Powder (my mother). I am not in a position to state the benefits as a baby, because I was too young to understand.

But since birds of the same feathers flock together, I got married to an old-fashioned spouse like me, who is also a beneficiary of the baby friendly initiative; even though it was launched in 1991 long after we were born.

Somehow, we managed to bequeath to all our children what we enjoyed from our parents. In these cases, I can categorically state the benefits.

Besides routine immunization and hospital visits, we never had cause to take any of the children to hospital as toddlers. Babies, exclusively fed on breast milk for the first six months of their lives, are healthy babies, a fact corroborated by the WHO and medical experts.  Beyond that, you make savings, at least for the first six months, on money you could have spent on baby formula and medical bills as a result of the child falling ill.

Our case was even better. Apart from my eldest child, who took baby food for a while, the other children simply graduated from breast milk to solid food. So we never bought baby food after our first child. If all children were like ours, companies making baby food would have diversified into other sectors or died.

The theme of this year’s week, “Breastfeeding: The Foundation of Life,” amplifies the importance of a mother’s milk at birth and the commencement of a child’s life. Even animals (mammals) instinctively know this. Health professionals advise that a baby should be breast fed within the first hour after birth, and the longer you delay, the more you put the baby’s health at risk.

Apart from the baby’s health, early breastfeeding plays an important role in reducing infant mortality. Of course, we have exceptional cases where some mothers do not start lactating (producing milk) sometimes until two or three days after child birth. Babies of such mothers have to be fed on infant formula until the mother starts lactating…unfortunately. But beyond that, a mother should happily stick those nipples into her baby’s mouth shortly after delivery.

But some mothers would not. Some arrogantly, foolishly, ignorantly and publicly declare that they do not breastfeed. What is their reason? They do not want to ruin their breasts. From my personal experience (even though I be man, I get wife for house for the past 19 years nah!), breast feeding does not necessarily make breasts sag; pregnancy and aging are more like it. And it looks like the sagging increases with each pregnancy.

My personal experience is corroborated by Mayo Clinic in the US, which said that, “the ligaments and skin that support breasts may stretch as a pregnant woman’s chest grows fuller and heavier. When her breasts shrink back down after she delivers her baby, the extended skin and ligaments may not return to their former shape, and neither may her breasts whether she has chosen to nurse or not.”

Also the older a woman is and the more pregnancies she has had, the more her breasts are likely to shrink.” The other factor is overweight.

Some other mothers also refuse to breastfeed as and when due because they do not want to expose their breasts in public. Why were they not ashamed when they were naked in the labour room? Why were they not ashamed when they threw their legs apart in the labour room for birth attendants and doctors (males and females) to dig in and probe?

It is okay to wear bikini in beaches and leave little of the breast to imagination, but not okay to bare them in public and breastfeed. Which is more important, your baby’s wellbeing or outsiders seeing your breasts. Exposing breasts in public is an indigenous culture in Africa.

Maidens did it and still do it in many African cultures. In my grandmother’s sitting room in those days, there was a big photo hanging conspicuously. She was topless with her breast extending to her navel. What have changed are the reasons for exposing breasts and cleavages. Today’s women do it for commercial purposes (soliciting for sex, getting more social media followers, etc), and to draw attention to themselves.

Finally, some women do not breastfeed at all or regularly due to medical reasons, natural reasons and other reasons like the nature of their work. I can understand when it is outside your control. Buy I can never understand why a mother will deliberately refuse to breastfeed her baby, which is an early form of bonding.

Later in life when the child is not close to you, you complain about a problem you deliberately created earlier in life. Stop this ignorance and foolishness. If possible, do exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months; if it is impracticable for you, breastfeed as often as you can.

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