Balancing family health and economic well-being in Kenya

Josephine (Josie) W. Munene is the Director of Community Engagement at Maziwa Breastfeeding, an organization that helps mothers balance their babies’ health and their families’ economic well-being in Kenya. Munene leads the lactation education training programs and the Community Breastfeeding Ambassador peer support initiatives.

Munene completed her graduate work in the UK with a focus on international development, and while she imagined she would spend her life working globally, and after spending some time working in the corporate world, she determined a need for helping moms in her home country. 

After her first son (now 14 years old) was born, she struggled to find breastfeeding support. Munene noticed that many of the resources and programs were established in the Global North and lacking for women in her community. So Munene switched gears and launched a business that sold breastfeeding supplies like breast pumps and nursing bras and nursing pads different from the “lumps” handed out by the hospital. She was looking to infuse dignity in the experience, she explains.  But Munene quickly realized that it wasn’t enough to sell products to women, so she pursued the Infant and Young Child Feeding Counselor Training in order to meld her lived experience with technical knowledge and offer evidence-based care to breastfeeding dyads.   

Kenya ranks quite well in the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) coming in at number 10 worldwide. Still, Munene shares that in Kenya, lactation professionals are not widely accepted as competent nor essential care providers. Instead, they are often considered “quacks” or the profession is regarded as a “hobby”. Munene has therefore made it a priority to engage in policy change with a goal to establish a national accreditation curriculum in her country that will recognize lactation care as an essential part of the continuum of care. Munene sees engagement of social enterprises in public private partnerships as an important piece to this work; reliance on governments alone or donor partners alone has proven to be ineffective, she comments. Further, Munene emphasizes the importance of engaging the people who the policies are intended to benefit. 

She sees an opportunity to adapt well-established accreditation programs in the Global North to Sub-Saharan countries’ needs. Growing the membership of the Kenya Association of Breastfeeding would signal to the Kenyan government the need for a local accreditation, she proposes. 

Recently, Munene and her colleagues helped facilitate a  Kenya Association for Breastfeeding workshop during the Amref International University (AMIU) Public Health Care Congress. A range of participants including gynecologists, pediatricians, students were invited to learn about the fundamental principles of lactation and breastfeeding. They then participated in reflecting on case studies using Healthy Children Project’s (HCP) 8-Level Problem Solving Process by Karin Cadwell and Cindy Turner-Maffei as a framework. 

Munune reports that the most interesting finding from the interactions was the participants’ identification of the need for breastfeeding support early on to alleviate or to eliminate challenges. 

Another takeaway illuminated  the specialized care that breastfeeding can require. Munene explains that in Kenya, breastfeeding generally falls under the nutrition category which overgeneralizes the “benefits” of breastfeeding and ignores the need for practical support that is tailored and effective. 

Munene mentions that Kenya employs Community Health Promoters which are important players in preventive health care, but the program does not address the need for more targeted support for breastfeeding dyads. 

Overall, Munene sees a need for a more comprehensive approach to lactation and breastfeeding care in her country. She calls for policies that go beyond “paperwork and guidelines”. 

For instance, Kenya has established lactation laws for working mothers, but she finds implementation and enforcement is lacking. [Check out this qualitative study for interesting  perspectives from women, families and employers in Kenya.] 

In Breastfeeding challenges for working mothers and their families in different workplace settings, around 18 minutes into the webinar, Munene presents on maintaining exclusive breastfeeding for working mothers.

Munene also reflects on maternity cash benefits for those working in the informal sector. These interventions can only be effective if they come with proper education, she reports. Cash benefits have the potential to influence personal nutritional wellness, and if individuals use the money to purchase indigenous foods from their neighbors, they have the added potential to boost income for the community as a whole. 

You can learn more about these endeavors and connect with Munune here

You might also be interested in learning about The Cost of Not Breastfeeding in Kenya. Check it out here.

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