The Mandatory Breast-feeding Law: NO Milk of Human Kindness

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The Liberian ‘lawmakers’ claim that it is the right of every child to be breastfed for six months and that the bill https://www.liberianobserver.com/liberia-house-votes-make-breastfeeding-mandatory   is designed to help “nurture a strong relationship between a mother and child.”  This is the consequence of not understanding the context and  fundamentals of where you are, jumping on the band wagon of the flavor of the week and trying to justify removing funds that actually help average Liberians.   

Does that mean that mothers who do not breastfeed do not have such bond?  Mothers who tied their babies on backs and walk in scorching hear and rain downpour to toil in the informal sector do not have the luxury of  nanny or  house maid as do some of the wives and mistresses of these ‘lawmakers.’ However, that does not make these informal sector mothers’ bond with their children any less strong or meaningful. 

“ As House-passed bill to protect babies’ health amid reports that it costs Liberia US$200,000 annually to treat children who are not properly breastfed.”

Is it mother’s milk and not the lack of quality care, nutritious food and safe enabling environment that is the problem.  The $200,000 is less than the $1,459,483 allotted to the lubricants for the legislature vehicles, it is less than the $380,000 allotted in the budget for  the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs for ‘grants’, and it is less than the Ministry of State foreign travel for 2022  – $889,855

Women have ben breastfeeding for centuries in the absence of legislation mandating the practice. Would there now be governmental monitors forcing breasts into the child’s mouth?  What next?  Perhaps a law that mandates the amount of times a woman sleeps with her partner? Would working mothers now have to rush home to feed their babies, express their milk and then keep it sanitized and cool with our ‘abundant’ supply of  electricity?

During the launch of the ‘Stronger With Breastmilk Only’ campaign, the organization says most babies in Liberia receive plain water, other liquids, and foods in addition to breastmilk during their first six months of life, contributing to child malnutrition, illnesses, and even death,”  claims ‘lawmakers.’

Some know that but do these ‘lawmakers’ know that when money is scarce, baby formula is supplemented with water to make the formula go further.   “If you mix formula incorrectly―if you water it down or make it too concentrated―it disturbs the electrolyte balance, which may lead to serious neurological complications.”(HealthBeat).  The issue is POVERTY!!!!  There needs to be more in the budget for our mothers and children.  The issue is to include more funds not take away the measly amount already allocated.

As a mother, I breastfed my older daughter for more than a year.  I had nutritious meals, a robust support system and the dignity of space to do so.  However, I was advised to supplement breastfeeding with other forms of milk for my younger daughter as the breast milk was insufficient.  This is with adequate nutrition!   Are we to assume that in the absence of inadequate nutrition, lack of health care, that our women will gush out milk like a geyser?  Or perhaps the ‘lawmakers’ know of a secret place that breastfeeding mothers go to get free food?

Perhaps in their haste to pass this law, ‘lawmakers’ skipped the research that explains some reasons why breastfeeding is not a viable option.  Let me help:

  • Women infected with HIV are warned not to breastfeed as the baby could contract the virus by ingesting breast milk; babies with galactosemia absolutely should not be breastfed because they are unable to digest breast milk (thereby will starve slowly); mothers with active tuberculosis should not breastfeed; mothers taking cancer chemotherapy medications cannot breastfeed as the  chemotherapy drugs hamper and may damage the baby’s growth; mothers who take like cocaine, PCP, heroin, marijuana. should not breast fed because of the serious side effects on the baby, and there are some mothers whose bodies cannot produce breast milk. 

This is not about saving money.  It is a way of reducing women, motherhood and the dignity of the woman to nothing.  It is a way of asserting control over women and their biology.   The human rights conventions and international agreements ratified by the Liberian government expressly mandates the dignity of the person.  Perhaps the ‘lawmakers’ did not read the document therefore I would like to point out relevant portions:

 Convention Against the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women :  part 1 – Article 2 (b) To adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women; 

Article2. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph I of this article, States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

Article 25 of The Declaration of Human Rights Article 25:  Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The fact that we have women who voted for this shows that there is no guarantee that women are any less ready to lay the groundwork for women’s continued oppression.  The fact that ‘traditional’ women or pay-per-protest women are silent on this violation speaks volumes. Mother’s milk comes from a well-nourished body. The health of the child is in direct correlation with an enabling environment that is clean, safe, and where children are well-fed and given quality education.   Most women in our country struggle daily to provide for their children.  To many, hunger is their day companion and their night partner.  While some women remain silent because they now occupy echelons of power or are spouses of men who do, while they remain silent because they are perhaps beyond childbearing years, it would be wise to heed the warning of the late Madeline Albright “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” 

As our country is now poised to move forward, is this really the kinds of laws we want or need?    Imagine 152 yellow school buses, carrying a total of 11,000 young children. That’s how many children under 5 die every year in Liberia. They lose their lives to easily preventable diseases such as neonatal causes, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea and measles. And the most vulnerable are newborn babies. At least a third of all under-five mortality occurs in the first month of life. To make matters worse, pregnant women and mothers are also at risk. Liberia has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality. One out of every ten women dies while pregnant, giving birth to their babies or in the aftermath of delivery. Close to one in three children and adults live five kilometers or more from a health facility. Trained health staff is in short supply, medicines are not always available.” (UNICEF).

These are the areas where ‘lawmakers’ need to focus.  Mandating mothers’ milk will not solve the problem of a child whose mother dies in the delivery room nor will this law prevent our babies from dying from preventable diseases.  Focus and concentrate your legislation on creating an enabling environment and not on one that will take $200,000 from the vulnerable and will no doubt be wasted elsewhere.

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