By Anthony Chiromba
Breastfeeding sounds like a straightforward thing to most of us: the woman pulls out a breast, stuffs it into a wailing child’s mouth and we once again have our peace of mind. And the moment we mention breastfeeding, the men wash their hands clean of the matter, but can we ever dissociate men from women’s bosoms given how they ogle insatiably at any given opportunity. I raise a glass to those who said “still waters run deep”, and this is an apt description to this issue.
Traditionally breastfeeding has been associated with women simply because they have the ‘right equipment’ for the job. However, ask any woman her experiences and most first time mothers (especially the formally employed mom) almost tear their hair out. Simply put, as men who constantly pride themselves as heads of households, we have failed to appreciate the stress and effort that goes into the early care and feeding of these children who bear our name and totem. I believe we have only managed to voice our displeasure of having our sleep punctuated by a wailing hungry little being and ask the mother to go to another room to feed.
As what most mothers already know from the clinics and hospitals they frequent on their own with our progeny, the first 1000 days of a child are the most critical to ensure that the child reaches his/her full potential in life. In those 1000 days, the first 6 months are recommended that a child is exclusively breastfed, i.e. being given breastmilk only without any water, traditional concoctions, etc. Other foods are introduced at 6 months to complement breastmilk, and breastfeeding continues up to the age of two years and beyond. Yes, I said it, breastfeeding up to two years and beyond!!!
As husbands, vanaMurehwa nanaShumba etc., we take all the credit for our child’s good deeds and achievements when we have invested very little effort in it; but strangely and beyond my own vivid imagination, we blame one woman for all the misdeeds and failures of the child she has lovingly made sacrifices for since conception.
What I am going to say terrifies me as a man, but allow me to get into a woman’s mind for a while. The moment a woman has conceived, in this modern era she is concerned about her job security as she will have to go on maternity leave at some point. In these harsh times, maternity leave normally means unpaid or half salary and this means the family might starve. Making matters worse, she is not sure she will get back her job after returning from maternity leave. Do you think it was her dream to be well educated, work for her family and somehow prematurely interrupt or end her career because you wanted children? Were I to breastfeed, I think my milk would have dried up already at such dreadful thoughts.
In a woman’s life there is that one pillar of strength to help her endure…. and let’s ask ourselves, is that pillar providing that support and strength? In these hard times of limited job security and narrowing employment prospects, it is high time men show themselves as the biblical heads of families and step up to support what is best for their own children. There is so much a woman can do on her own, but without the support of her partner and the community in exclusive breastfeeding the best for our own children will always be an arm’s length away…. I hope and pray we give to them.