Butere is a town in Kakamega County in Kenya. Since time immemorial, the town with over 4,000 people has been practising a rather obscure custom that would have never come to the limelight had health officials not raised concern.
The custom sees men competing with newborns for breast milk. As such, mothers feed their babies with one breast and leave the other for their husbands, local media Nairobi News reports.
The practice has left newborns malnourished as they are unable to get the right amount of breastmilk, health officials have said.
Under the practice, newborns are not allowed to suck the breast reserved for their fathers.
“When a man sucks the breast of his wife who is lactating, the child should not breastfeed on the same breast. This child will die. Our Luhya cultural practices don’t allow this,” an 82-year-old man who refused to be identified was quoted by Nairobi News.
Sucking has nothing to do with breast milk
For the men in the town, the custom has nothing to do with breast milk, but it is rather a way of preventing their wives and children from being cursed. Others said they suck their wives’ breast to ensure the romance remains even after childbirth.
But health officials are worried about the consequences on children and thus, in 2014, Butere sub-county public health officer Mr Oliver Walutila started a campaign to end the custom in the area.
That is yet to achieve the desired result as according to a 57-year-old father of five, the age-old custom is still being passed to the younger generation.
Dr Donald Musi, who is in charge of Yatta Plateau medical centre believes curiosity is driving men in the town to continue with the tradition.
“I think there is just a lot of curiosity in men. They want to find out what it tastes like… husband breastfeeding can be as much about curiosity than utility,” said Dr Musi.
Some women are reported not to have any concern with the practice and have since denied claims by health officials that the custom could affect the health of their newborns.