By Peter Oliver Ochieng 

Until about two years ago, Kibuye, the largest market place in Kisumu, a lake-side city located about 355km from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital was an open air market. Thanks to an urban modernization program being implemented by the county government, blue-iron-roofed structures are sprouting up.

On a daily basis, the market provides a level meeting point for traders and customers from the entire Western region, some coming from as far as Kisii and Busia counties about 107km and 114km respectively from Kisumu.

Breastfeeding mothers are among hundreds of traders who sell wares at Kibuye, in a bid to put food on their table on a daily basis. For a long time, those who go with their kids to the market have had to breastfeed them under unfavorable conditions such as dust, rain, sunlight and the normal hustles that come with being in a market.

But now, things have changed for the better. In the middle of the market is the Kibuye Market Breastfeeding Centre. The Centre was opened about a month ago, following a partnership deal between the County government of Kisumu and Kidogo, to a tune of Sh300, 000 (about USD 2, 542).

Kidogo is a social enterprise that is transitioning into a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) primarily dealing with the upgrade of daycare centres, through nutrition health packages.

The breastfeeding centre in Kibuye market.

Rael Mwando, Kisumu County nutritionist, says most women have to go back to work shortly after giving birth, making breastfeeding difficult.

“Some of these mothers who do casual jobs such as those in the markets when they give birth today they are supposed to resume work immediately; if they don’t go back they don’t have food on the table. So the implication is if they go back they either go with the child to work or they leave the child behind,” said Mwando.

“If they leave the child behind that means the child is fed on other non nutritious foods. When you also look at those in the formal sector, according to the health Act 2017, they are given the maternity leave of three months, but we talk of exclusive breastfeeding for six months. So when they come back after three months of maternity leave, that means they also need support.”

She said breastfeeding is one of the smartest investments a society can undertake, adding: “It has clearly been demonstrated that if you invest one dollar (about Kshs. 118) on breastfeeding purposes, the return is USD 35 (about Kshs. 4,130). Breastfeeding is a smart investment and is a value for money.”

She said exclusive breastfeeding for six months drastically reduces the cost of treating preventive and chronic diseases, when a child is growing up.

According to the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF), exclusive breastfeeding prevents chronic diseases such as obesity, heart conditions, pressure and certain cancers, such as cancer of the kidney.

Emily Achieng is among the seven traders who frequently use the breastfeeding centre at the Kibuye market.

Achieng who sells shoes at the market has a nine-month-old baby girl. She says initially, it was a challenge breastfeeding her daughter in the market but with the availability of the centre, she has a safe space to give the child her right.

Emily breastfeeding the baby at the centre

She opens her business at nine in the morning and by the time she closes shop at six in the evening, she would have visited the centre four times to breastfeed her daughter. The distance from where she sells her shoes to the centre is less than 100 metres.

“This place is very cool and secure. Outside when you need to breastfeed your child you have to cover her up, maybe she doesn’t want to be covered. There is dust, sunlight and even rain. But here; it is safe, I don’t have to cover her. She can sleep without any problem. There are no movements and there is no payment to access the center,” said Achieng.

Beatrice Anyango is another trader who uses the centre at least three times per day. She has a six-months-old daughter and sells clothes.

“In the market people are so many and others look at your child with bad eyes. Whenever it rains you don’t know what to do in order to breastfeed your child. At the centre, the environment is very conducive, I like it,” she added.

Achieng and Anyango said so far, there are no challenges associated with using the centre. However, Millicent Gaya, Community Health Worker attached to Kaloleni/Shaurimoyo unit who is in charge of the centre on behalf of the County government of Kisumu, said convincing more women to utilize the centre is still not a walk in the park.

“They say it is ok but the challenge is convincing them to leave their places of trade to come and breastfeed their children here. They feel like coming here will waste their time and make them lose customers.” Gaya says, adding

“They suggest that they come and leave their kids here and pick them later on. But that means it becomes a form of a day care where they only come to breastfeed and leave them here, and pick them in the evening.”

At the moment, the centre has only two people to help mothers around, thus it is not possible unless the county makes such arrangements, she says.

Gaya notes that breastfeeding a child in a safe environment helps in his or her development and urges women to utilize the centre saying: “In the market, a mother cannot concentrate while breastfeeding his or her child. The feeding is always on and off as the mother attends to customers. The child cannot enjoy such kind of breastfeeding. It is just like when an adult is eating and then you are being told to speak or stand, you can’t enjoy that meal. Additionally, the child can experience a cold or diarrhea because of the conditions in the open market environment.”

Breastfeeding cubes for mothers in the centre

In order to breastfeed her child, a mother only needs to walk into the centre. The officers at the centre will hold her child as she cleans her hands at the sink, strategically placed next to the door.

The centre has four cubes, which means four mothers can comfortably sit and breastfeed their kids at a go. Each cube has a plastic chair and a pillow. The facility has equipment for mothers to express milk and a middle sized fridge to preserve it for the child’s later consumption.

It also has three mattresses for mothers to sleep as they breastfeed their children. There is also a TV set which displays information on best breastfeeding practices, hygiene and nutrition.

After Kibuye, the County government of Kisumu in partnership with various stakeholders is going on with plans of having similar centres in various markets across the County, such as Ahero and Kombewa among others.