How Mother’s Loving Support Encourages Breastfeeding in Zambia

Mutinta Roni Maimbo

Mother’s Loving Support is a non-profit volunteer organisation borne out of the founder’s desire to encourage and support women as they breast feed their babies while continuing to work outside the home.

In Zambia, breastfeeding a child is a socially accepted and encouraged step with the coming of a child, but many women in urban areas slowly transition to formula or other substitutes as the child grows or as they end their maternity leave to go back to work. Typically this happens at three months postpartum, though some women are able to extend their maternity leave in order to spend more time with their babies and nurse them for longer. When the time comes, many difficult decisions are made, one of them being how a mother can continue nursing while she goes to work?

Employment law does not have a specific allowance for nursing mothers, but at the discretion of the employers, mothers can take an hour each day to breastfeed their children, with many women able to go home during lunch hour to nurse. However, others face challenges in taking this time to nurse and this prevents them from providing breast milk for their children, thus transitioning them to substitutes earlier than is recommended. In addition, if women have not had an easy time breastfeeding, they are likely to stop at this stage.

Mutinta Roni Maimbo, an accountant by profession, struggled to breastfeed her first-born, but with the birth of her second child, she was “determined to get it right.” Mutinta acknowledges the surprise she and others feel when they realise that breastfeeding does not always come naturally and easily.

It was for these reasons that Mutinta established a support group to encourage women to keep breastfeeding after they returned to work; the charity also receives breast pumps which Mutinta donates to mothers who need to express milk and leave a supply for their baby during the day or maintain milk production. Mutinta says, with support from experienced or knowledgeable women, and a supportive environment outside the home, it is possible to have a fulfilling breastfeeding relationship with the new baby.

Mothers Loving Support (MLS) was established in 2013. Mutinta used Facebook to reach out to women who had questions or concerns about breastfeeding, to give them support as they went though this important stage in their and their new baby’s life. “Some women experience difficulties with latching on, or some want to know how to increase their milk production.” They post questions on the page and Mutinta responds, usually posting the answer with an insightful article to give more knowledge and information.

Mutinta trained as a breastfeeding counsellor with Breastfeeding USA, and while most of her resources are with that background in mind, she has local knowledge to reference and draw upon in order to help these women.

To date, MLS has over 90 members, mostly young, new mothers yet with a handful of men. The majority of members seek support in continuing breastfeeding, and alternatives to incorrect information they may be getting from their social groups. For instance, despite WHO recommendations on breastfeeding, and Zambian society being open to breastfeeding, some women are encouraged by their family members to stop when the child reaches twelve months, as continuing to nurse will ‘spoil’ the child. Mutinta says she discourages women from giving in to this idea and explains that nursing is an important time for the mother and baby to bond, in addition to all the other known benefits.

When women raise their doubts about pumping (expressing) contributing to long-term disfigurement of the breasts, she reinforces the idea that “Pregnancy is what changes your body, not pumping milk for your baby.”

A major challenge that Mutinta sees is women who need to go back to work and are forced to give their children formula, cow’s milk or a traditional maize-based drink called Maheu in the place of breast milk. For an average earner, formula is expensive; cow’s milk and Maheu are unsuitable for young babies, but some women feel they have no choice. By learning how to express their milk and store it correctly, many women would not have to give these substitutes when they return to their jobs. This is one of the things Mutinta tries to address. Although she has only given out two breast pumps, she knows that any donated pump will easily find a new owner and she continues to seek them out through various channels.

On the Facebook page, Mutinta always recommends that mothers buy breast pumps, but the cost is an inhibiting factor. They are on the market beginning at K800 ($135), which is out of the reach of most parents, even if they do have a regular job. Yet some women are fortunate to have access to their own breast pumps to facilitate an easier transition to work. Mutinta tells the story of a relative, an MLS member, who was on maternity leave when she received the call that she was needed back at work. After explaining her situation, her employer offered to buy her a breast pump so her baby could continue receiving breast milk while she was at work, and to ensure her milk supply was not interrupted because of the reduced feeds.

This is a very rare story but a success in Mutinta’s eyes as she hopes more employers become more accommodating to nursing mothers. While MLS does not lobby for this yet, there is a hope to build up interest in companies extending the time given for breastfeeding and establishing breastfeeding rooms where they can express their milk comfortably, or even bring their babies in to feed!

Some weeks ago, Mutinta was discouraged that she was not doing enough through MLS and considered suspending the activities. But recently, she’s realised the impact it’s made on new mothers and their babies.

Prudence is a mother who has sought help from MLS since her daughter was born. “MLS has been of great help to me and my daughter from the time she was born to now. It’s not easy especially weaning but MLS have really helped with advice and encouragement.”

The work will continue; mothers will continue to be encouraged and supported as they breastfeed their babies and stove them the best possible start in life.

Mali Kambandu is a writer living in Lusaka, Zambia. She writes about wife things, mummy things, development things and creative things. She also does consultancy work in Communications and Media.

Feature photo: Jennifer James

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