By Josephine Agbonkhese
After child delivery, every mother expects breastfeeding to happen naturally and seamlessly. While this turns out pure bliss for some, many others suffer extremely poor lactation until they eventually give up on breastfeeding their babies. The Founder/Chief Executive Officer of Milky Express Nigeria, Titilayo Medunoye is the Amazon helping mothers resolve breastfeeding issues so that babies are adequately breastfed.
An Obama Leader, Medunoye who has garnered several recognitions for her innovative work, was among 200 emerging leaders selected from 45 countries across the African continent by the Obama Leadership Foundation mid-2019. Milky Express produces lactation cookies, teas and shakes and also offers support in terms of consultation for nursing mothers. It also helps those suffering post-partum depression. Medunoye, who holds a B.A. in Economics from Nkwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, spoke with Sunday Vanguard.
A lot of people are unfamiliar with who a lactation consultant is; what does a lactation consultant do?
A certified lactation consultant is the only healthcare worker skilled in the clinical management of breast milk and human lactation. I am actually the first in Nigeria to be certified by the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, IBCLC. IBCLC is part of the infant and maternal healthcare team in the US. They focus on the clinical management of breastfeeding and human lactation. This means they work with mothers during their breastfeeding years to combat whatever breastfeeding problems they may have. Their work also includes ensuring a child is adequately fed and growing properly while breastfeeding.
Was your journey into founding Milky Express from personal experience?
Absolutely. I had a difficult pregnancy and was, therefore, looking forward to having my baby and enjoying some sort of stability. But after she was born, it only became more difficult. I had a very difficult time breastfeeding and even experienced a lot of pain while I breastfed. I suffered this for three months and was really depressed. I had my daughter in the US and eventually had the opportunity of meeting an IBCLC. Prior to that time, I didn’t know the career existed. I started to use some lactation products and brought some with me to Nigeria.
After arriving Nigeria, I realised I could no longer access these products except I order and have them shipped to Nigeria as there was no one making them in Nigeria. I eventually decided to try my hands on making these products and was surprised that my first trial turned out very effective. My friends eventually started asking for the product when they saw the results. That was when I realised there were many other women in need of such products. I however got a lot of discouragements from some people who felt the Nigerian market was not ready for the products; but I forged ahead. Today, we have served over 3,000 mothers in Nigeria, across Africa and even in the US and UK.
But a lot of Nigerians believe breastfeeding is a natural and seamless…
(Cuts in) While breastfeeding is a natural occurrence in the sense that after a baby is born, the mother’s breast will begin to lactate, it is not exactly an evolutionary process. Therefore, every mother, at every point in time, will always need to learn and re-learn how to breastfeed. This is because the breastfeeding relationship involves two people who are constantly changing. A mother’s first baby will always have a different oral anatomy from her second baby; as such, no two breastfeeding experiences are the same.
Also, the fact that a woman has breasts does not necessarily mean that she will be able to breastfeed. A lot of factors such as hormones and even the development process of the breasts, go into breastfeeding.
You’ve spent almost a decade in the health, hospitality and manufacturing industries; what lessons have you learned so far?
I’ve learned a lot about resilience. The economic instability in Nigeria and Africa as a whole makes it difficult to thrive. So, at every point, one must be willing to go far above and beyond to be successful. I have also learned that one cannot succeed alone. It is so important to have partnerships and relationships where we serve one another and then achieve all set goals.
As a self-acclaimed advocate for women empowerment, what active steps are you taking to bridge the gender gap that exists in Nigeria?
As part of our corporate social responsibility, we recently set up a foundation that focuses on not just bridging the gender gap but also ensuring equity across board. Through the foundation and support from other donor organisations, we offer free healthcare to mothers and babies in rural communities. We also offer vocational and entrepreneurial skills to help them build sustainable businesses and provide for the needs of their families. Also, we provide scholarships for children in primary schools.
You were recently chosen by the Obama Leadership Foundation as one of the young Africans to change Africa, how are you leveraging on this?
One of the first things we did as Obama Leaders was to go through a period of leadership training to help us properly understand what it means to be a social entrepreneur, as well as to teach us the rudiments of properly making impact in our communities. In terms of leveraging, the platform has also helped me foster a lot of relationships and partnerships with other young bright Africans in the area of health, education, politics, etc.
Running a business such as yours can’t be without its challenges; what are the issues you face daily?
My biggest challenge was getting the market to understand the value of our products and services. We had to put a lot of effort into educating people on what our products and services will help them achieve. We therefore had to give out a lot of free products for people to see the results. The feedback became a tool with which we penetrated other mothers and store owners.
Can you share some key lessons life has taught you?
The biggest lesson life has taught me is that every problem poses an opportunity for innovation. In any area where you find challenges, don’t wait for someone to bring a solution. Rather, be a part of the solution.
Being a woman entrepreneur here can be harder than normal, what five key things would you recommend they do to be as successful as yourself?
Be ready for every challenge that will come, because nothing great comes easy. Be bold and courageous; you will need these to achieve your dreams. Take advice from those who have gone before you. A mentor is a very valuable asset that will push you further faster. As you make your way up, hold someone’s hand and take her with you.
If you could influence change for Nigerian mothers, what would you do?
One of the first things I would do is to make changes to the policy on maternity leave. Mothers go through a lot during pregnancy, childbirth and after. They need a good amount of time to recover both physically and mentally to be able to perform well on their jobs. I would also push to ensure that every organisation employs women and provides suitable arrangements for them to either work from home when the baby is born or put in place facilities that would enable them work while the baby is at the office with them. I would also ensure that consequences are taken more seriously with regards to issues that affect women—from violence to sexual and even psychological abuse; perpetrators must be held accountable.