• Overall experience is good for mothers, though more can be done.
Breastfeeding is the most natural gift ever given to mothers, especially those who find themselves having to do long distance travel with their babies.
Mums, have you had the experience of using the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Nairobi to Mombasa? If you are like many of us, we waited till the hype had minimised and the dust had settled before dipping our toes into the water.
By many of us, I mean the parents, with toddlers and the breast feeders. Yes, we don’t just jump in unless we know we will survive till the end, because, you know the windows in the train do not open and there’s just no way you will abandon ship when the going gets tough.
The thing that struck me on the SGR, was the heightened security. With this, they have been meticulous and we’ve got to give them their due respect for that. For a breastfeeding mum, being that the men and women queue on different lines, I would advise you to arrive early because the lines can be quite long and there’s no place to sit with your baby - you could be standing for up to half an hour or more. In my case, the guards at the entrance saw my fussy baby and let me cut the line. While in the building, Kenya Railways needs to consider creating a specific space for breastfeeding mums who need to express milk while on the journey.
When you board, you will immediately notice the wide gangway, and in my case it was such a relief to let go of my toddlers to stretch their legs for a minute as I tried to settle down. The train’s cabins are divided into rows of two seats on one side and three seats on the other. Within the rows, seats face each other, forming a sort of a cubicle open on one side. There is a table attached to the wall that is only reachable to the first two seats next to the wall, if you happen to be on the third seat next to the gangway, you have some negotiation to do.
Breastfeeding is easiest on the gangway seat since the built-in table cannot be moved to allow more space for you and the baby’s head in the feeding position. Changing a baby’s diaper was actually a big challenge as I had to request people to stand up from their seats in order to lay the baby down. There will be need to consider a baby changing area for this. The SGR needs to borrow a leaf from the Baltimore passenger trains in the USA which have created breastfeeding cabins called ‘pods’, equipped with comfortable sitting area and electricity outlets that expressing mothers can also benefit from. For the SGR, these could be a few cabins where breastfeeding mums and their family member can seat with baby friendly spaces.
Overall, it was a positive experience compared to other public means of transport available in Kenya. There’s ample space and the seats facing each other are slightly spaced out and you can comfortably breastfeed on the gangway seat. There’s a sink where you can clean up your utensils if need be, but you have to prepare to carry your own disinfectants.
In Kenya, organisations like Career Mothers for Exclusive Breastfeeding (CAMFEB), encourage mothers to normalise breastfeeding and support it to be done anywhere and anytime. The SGR management could also encourage breastfeeding by providing warm water for moms who need it.
Dorcas Njoroge is a Gender specialist