It’s been three weeks since rain has fallen in much of Zambia. In what would normally be considered the rainy season, farmers should be planting their crops, but the national weather unit has advised holding off due to the severe dry spell.
Musa Imakando-Mzumara is an Investment Management and Banking Professional in Zambia, and she points out that people in her country are feeling the effects of the climate crisis and subsequent extreme weather conditions.
Inspired by her own challenges breastfeeding her now 18-month-old son, Imakando-Mzumara recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC).
“[Breastfeeding] didn’t come so easily for us; it was a difficult thing for me,” she begins. “I was conditioned to think it happens automatically. I got so much confusing guidance… With everyone’s good intentions, some of the words may have been harsh and affected me negatively. I felt like I was failing.”
As an economist, she says studying lactation was something completely new to her, but she sees breastfeeding as a way to establish roots for a flourishing future in her country.
Imakando-Mzumara initially sought out the LCTC to become a supportive resource for her peers, but she hopes to see these efforts grow into larger scale solutions.
For instance, addressing the environmental impact of artificial baby milks is appealing to young, professional, millennial parents in Zambia. Breastfeeding’s appeal from an environmentally-friendly standpoint extends beyond millennial parents though, especially as the entire country feels the effects of extreme weather.
For perspective, “Droughts and floods over the last 30 years have cost Zambia more than $13.8b according to recent estimates, which is equivalent to approximately 4 percent of annual GDP,” according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Interestingly, according to the latest WBTi report (2008), Zambia achieves high scores in their exclusive breastfeeding rate and many other arenas. Today, the country’s exclusive breastfeeding rate remains relatively high, and Imakando-Mzumara predicts it will continue to hold strong.
That’s because a large part of the population falls into informal and rural work spaces, where mothers generally carry their babies with them all day making breastfeeding more convenient, she explains. What’s more, she says there’s a lot of outreach by medical personnel to ensure high breastfeeding success in rural spaces too.
Of course, these anchors don’t diminish the challenges that these mothers still face. Formula companies’ influence is perverse, like an invasive species that chokes out everything in its path. Because many families working in informal spaces cannot afford artificial milks for supplementation, Imakando-Mzumara reports that some supplement their infant feeding with sour milk (similar to kefir) which is not designed to properly nourish human babies.
In urban areas, like the capital city of Lusaka where Imakando-Mzumara lives, families grapple with barriers to breastfeeding like non-compliance with the International code of marketing breast-milk substitutes, no Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) accredited maternity facilities, very few lactation specialists, no specific breastfeeding education integrated into perinatal care and limited workplace lactation accommodations.
Zambia’s Ministry of Labor states that a “female employee who is nursing a newly born baby is entitled to:
- Two nursing breaks of thirty minutes each;
- One nursing break of one hour in a day;
Provided that the nursing breaks are for a maximum period of six months from the birth of the child. These breaks should not be deducted from her normal working hours. Furthermore, the employee is still entitled to lunch break.”
Without many breast pump retailers in Zambia, only some of the population having access to online shopping, and very limited lactation-specific education about how to properly pump or hand express, moms are left virtually alone to navigate getting their milk to their babies.
Imakando-Mzumara shares that because her mother-in-law is a midwife equipped with lactation training, she was able to “stick it out” with her help.
In Zambia, it is typical for new mothers to move in with their own mothers or for their mothers to come live with their daughter and new grandchild(ren). Imakando-Mzumara says that the familial support is wonderful, but that it can become detrimental when you consider their elders’ generation’s infant feeding beliefs.
“Our moms come from the generation that was taught that formula is better for children,” she explains. “They will pass on information that they think is useful.”
Imakando-Mzumara recognizes that these deeply held beliefs will take time to debunk.
In the interim, she says she hopes to be someone who can encourage those without health and science backgrounds to become invested in lactation and breastfeeding promotion and support.
“If they knew this opportunity (to support families) was out there, a good number of people would take it,” she comments.
While in the beginning of her lactation counseling journey, Imakando-Mzumara plans to make herself available to parent groups in her network.
She says, “A lot of moms make certain decisions because they just don’t have the knowledge or support to make other decisions.”