Unhooking the Liquid Gold Taboo

May 11 , 2024
By Eden Sahle

Motherhood has a way of unveiling unexpected truths. Following the birth of my daughter, I was confronted with a striking realisation: the prevalence of misinformation and stigma surrounding breastfeeding. It was a realm where I encountered surprising perspectives.

Many older women, whom I had presumed to be wellsprings of wisdom due to their experiences raising children, offered unsolicited advice steeped in outdated beliefs. They championed the perceived superiority of formula and voiced concerns that I was denying my daughter essential nutrients by exclusively breastfeeding. Their opinions disregarded evidence-based recommendations from credible sources like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). On top of that, they deemed public breastfeeding, even when discreetly covered, as taboo—an attitude that left me bewildered.

Nevertheless, I made the informed choice to exclusively breastfeed for the initial six months, supplemented until my daughter reaches two years old. This decision came with sacrifices; I put my career on hold while my husband took on additional work. But, the rewards are immeasurable. We are fortunate to provide our child with vital nutrients.

In Ethiopia, where workplace support for breastfeeding mothers is lacking, many women are compelled to cease the practice due to practical constraints and societal pressures. I have even witnessed a close relative from a privileged background being discouraged from breastfeeding, as it was deemed suitable only for the underprivileged. She now deeply regrets depriving her son of the advantages of breast milk.

The manifold benefits extend beyond physical health, encompassing cognitive, emotional, and immunological enrichment that forms the bedrock of lifelong well-being. It helps form a profound emotional and psychological bond between mother and child. Directly providing nourishment and sustenance instils a profound sense of accomplishment and capability.

Breastfeeding redirects attention from societal beauty ideals toward the empowerment found in nurturing and sustaining life. Its immune-boosting attributes fortify the infant's immune system and emotional needs. It compels a mother to feed her baby every two to three hours, honing her ability to discern her baby's cues. Her proficiency in recognising subtle signs and signals indicating the infant's needs will be heightened. The cognitive, emotional, and immunological enrichment in children transcends the creation of a healthy family and societal dynamic.

Although the benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies are undeniable, Ethiopian women find it difficult to maintain upon returning to work. Regrettably, many offices even in Addis Abeba lack dedicated facilities for breastfeeding. While the city's Women, Children & Social Affairs Bureau endeavoured to allocate space for childcare services in up to 1,000 public offices last year, its implementation requires earnest attention.

Instituting workplace policies that afford nursing mothers dedicated spaces, flexible breaks for pumping, and safe storage facilities enables mothers to nurture their children while fulfilling their professional obligations. Frequent pumping at work helps mothers maintain their milk supply, which operates on a demand-and-supply basis. Meanwhile, educating the public and creating a space where mothers feel confident breastfeeding anywhere without fear of judgment or criticism is imperative to dispel misconceptions and barriers.

Investing in breastfeeding today is an investment in the health, vitality, and prosperity of generations to come. Providing infants with the optimal nutrition lays the groundwork for a generation that has stronger immune systems enhanced cognitive development, and emotional stability. It contributes to the emergence of a thriving populace.

PUBLISHED ON May 11,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1254]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at edensah2000@gmail.com.

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