I never thought I’d ever need nursing rooms in my life.
The first time I expressed milk was 2 days after I gave birth. Expressing milk simply means squeezing milk out of your breast so you can store it and feed it to your baby later. I did it from the comfort of my bed using my good old hands.
My manual breast pump was no good because I couldn’t get my nipple to latch on. With the help of my mum and a hot compress, the natural way worked! Coaxing my breasts to produce milk, then pumping it, became a routine that I fell into over the next 11 months.
I produced about 4 – 5 bottles per day, half a litre per pumping session. This required consuming lots of fluids to aid in the production of milk. Bone soup, uji, gallons and gallons of water. Eating healthy was also a must, no skipping meals. I ate a lot of traditional vegetables like mrenda and saget; fruits like watermelon and avocado; beans, peas, eggs and of course, meat.
Imani consumed more than a litre of milk per day, and at 3 months we introduced cow milk to supplement what I produced. Her daily ration has gone even higher and we are now at 2 litres of fluids on a daily basis (mostly yoghurt, milk and water).
My mum and I had already discussed what it would take for me to breastfeed and go back to school and work. Some necessary lifestyle changes had to be made to make sure Imani’s needs and mine were met. We all chipped in to buy me a fridge, one week before my due date.
As life would have it, I had exams in the first two weeks of Imani’s birth, and a month later, I was back at the University of Nairobi for my last semester. My goal was to graduate in 2014. Graduating at age 21 sounded way sexier than graduating at 22.
There were no nursing rooms on campus. I had to express milk four times a day and could only do it from home. I constantly dealt with leaking breasts and wearing multiple breast pads at a go. Every new mother’s definition of hell.
Going back to work was a much better experience. My office was at Strathmore University, where, guess what? There was a nursing room! (Thank you for the info, Dorcas!). It was conveniently located in the Students’ Center. Very nondescript and easy to ignore. It had a fridge, a comfortable seat, an electric outlet, hand sanitizer and paper towels. Heaven.
It is a crazy hustle trying to find a clean public place to change your baby. Babies soil themselves at the most random times. Once, at church with Imani, she pooped. Poop that spread all over her diaper and onto her back. The washrooms were horrible, a pit latrine with no space to manoeuvre.
I ended up at the back of the church, a plastic seat as my changing station. It was not pleasant.
There is also the time I went to a festival targeted at young parents. They only had eco-toilets and my only option was to change Imani standing up. She was 2 and a half. This sh** is not easy.
Most public washrooms in Kenya are nothing to write home about. We need to re-think human dignity as a nation. Is this really what we deserve? With better hygienic conditions, we say goodbye to diseases like cholera and typhoid.
Malls and eateries like Java are on the right track. They have changing rooms and changing tables in their premises. This makes the customer experience a lot better. Pro tip: a happy customer is a returning customer. A returning customer is a willing buyer.
The Breastfeeding Mothers Bill 2017, sponsored by Sabina Chege, Women Representative Murang’a County, requires nursing rooms in buildings, accessible to the public, with more than 30 occupants.
The bill had been proposed earlier in 2015 by Rachel Nyamai, Kitui South MP, but it was rejected after threats from business groups who vowed to stop employing women if forced to provide breastfeeding facilities.
It will be one year in April since the bill was passed. Companies and real estate developers have two more years to comply. Consequences include a one-year jail term or a Ksh 500,000 fine.
There are two scenarios that could play out in 2020:
Kenyans will complain that they didn’t know, mothers will be blamed, single mothers will be attacked and the bill will be rolled back to be forgotten until it serves another politician’s purpose.
Or, the road least taken, we will have sufficient nursing rooms, clean changing rooms and pristine public spaces. It feels like a dream world when it should be the bare minimum.
Let us not hesitate to put pressure on our employers to become compliant right now. By 2020 we should be figuring out the next thing, like a paedophile registry and other real consequences for sexual offenders.
Read about the first time I discovered I was pregnant.