2 March 2012

public health policy - mama style.

The AAP recently made a subtle wording change in it's statement about breastfeeding.

The most important guidelines in the U.S. about child health now state:

“[breastfeeding is a]public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice.”

This refocused recommendation also states that babies should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months.  Encouraging American lawmakers and employers to protect and encourage the needs of breastfeeding women just got much easier.  

In Congo, however, everyone knows that breastfeeding is essential - and they are willing to make sure that new mothers know it.

I can think of many a friend who has experienced Congolese "public health policy" first hand - including our own Sarah.  Sarah has had two newborns while living in the Congo.  Both times, she experienced numerous public reminders to "Let the baby eat!  She needs to eat!"  One time, Annais was crying and she was surrounded by a small crowd in a grocery store encouraging her to nurse her baby...and waiting to make sure she actually did.  That's public health policy and follow-through at it's best.

Another expat friend and her husband went to the grocery store here in Kinshasa with their 3 week old baby.  Baby Clara snuggled in a front baby carrier on her father.  Clara began to cry.  Three or four Congolese women rushed over and admonished both parents for having the baby so far away from the breast.  "She must eat immediately!  She shouldn't cry!  The mother must carry her!"

A week later, this friend accompanied my family to the paint shop.  Baby Clara was again in the front carrier.  Being a floppy newborn, she looked...well...floppy, of course.  The women who owned the shop hit the roof.  "The baby can't nurse like that!  How will she nurse?" Baby Bjorns apparently do not get the golden seal of approval around here (disclaimer:  many an American mom has been introduced to the wonders of babywearing through this device! AND Sarah reminded me that I've seen several Congolese mamas rocking the Western front carrier...).  Too hard to feed the baby.

Mama NuNu confirms that in her experience, "if there is a baby crying on the bus, all the women on the bus shout, 'Feed the baby!  Give it the breast!'"  She explained it as, "everyone wants the mama to know that she should feel comfortable feeding her baby - no matter where she is."  See?  Public health policy at work.
No mother, women, father, man, or child I've met here would even waver for a moment about the importance of breastfeeding a baby.  It's not an issue.  It's a fact.

Sounds like the AAP is catching on...

Certainly, there are mothers who gratefully feed their babies other ways (remember Sarah's donation to Kenyan mamas?), but the basic assumption is that, especially in a place where most do not have access to clean water or regular meals, breastfeeding is the rule.  It's a matter of public health.

(Stay tuned for a "how to" on baby wearing with a pagne - the same stuff Katie's bridesmaid's dresses will be made of,  oh yes.  Brought to Mama Congo by Mama NuNu.)

1 comment:

  1. Just yesterday Mamicho told me how much she wants a breast pump. I said, "Why? Are you pregnant? Do you want to get pregnant?" As an already single mom of 3 she said the French version of, "No way am I having more babies! I just love that machine. I love it! It's the best thing ever. It makes free food."


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