Above: Breastfeeding mother with midwife in Garba Tulla, Eastern Province Kenya. (Kate Holt/Jhpiego)
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A new law in Kenya is set to encourage more and more Kenyan mothers to breastfeed their babies. On May 30, a new law will restrict marketing of formula, bottles, and pacifiers. 

The law is in response to aggressive marketing tactics on social media, encouraging Kenyan mothers to use breastmilk substitutes. Formula sold in stores will now have labels that say “breast is best” and other pro-breastfeeding slogans.

Meanwhile, Kenya already has high rates of breastfeeding among mothers and infants. Over 60% of infants are breastfed at six months of age.

Kenya’s breastfeeding rates are much higher than the global average of 44%. This is likely due to country-wide policies that encourage and support breastfeeding mothers. 

In Kenya, mothers are provided with three months’ maternity leave with pay, while fathers get two weeks. Additionally, companies are required to provide lactation rooms and work breaks for pumping. 

In the United States, by contrast, while mothers’ are provided with 12 weeks of maternity leave, it is without pay. Additionally, the rule only applies to large companies with a certain number of workers. 

Maternal health disparities complicate breastfeeding for Black American mothers

These policies could contribute to the United States’ lower rates of breastfeeding among Black mothers. At six months, only 28% of Black babies are still breastfed

Black women report barriers to breastfeeding, including a lack of hospital-provided lactation support, as well as racial disparities in pregnancy-related health outcomes. Black women are more likely to give birth prematurely, to lower birthweight babies than White women. 

And pregnancy among Black women in the United States is a risky venture, with Black women more likely to experience health complications, and even death. The maternal mortality rate among Black women is nearly three times that of White women.

Meanwhile, health providers have created initiatives to support more Black women in breastfeeding their babies. The Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association is a national organization that provides support to Black women during pregnancy and postpartum. 

BMBFA provides virtual support groups as well as lactation consultants for mothers. There is also a community doula program for pregnant women seeking support during their pregnancies. 

Additionally, formula shortages like that currently faced in the United States disproportionately affect Black American families, while Kenyan mothers face less risk. However, many mothers worry that the new law in Kenya will stigmatize those mothers who formula feed. 

According to Sharon Macharia, a Kenyan woman who breastfeeds her daughter, the new law is helpful, but leaves out working mothers. She says, “for career women and women with health complications, formula is the savior.” 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...

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