More than six years ago, Esther Kimani found herself managing a difficult pregnancy with her first child. While on doctor-prescribed bed rest for most of her pregnancy, Esther began to prepare to care for her newborn, extensively researching infant nutrition and learning a lot about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and when to introduce complementary foods. Despite all of her new knowledge, Esther’s baby was born small and anemic, and she had major challenges breastfeeding for nearly a month. Without any resources like a lactation specialist, Esther persevered, and finally her baby took to the breast and began to thrive. As a result of her experience, Esther developed a passion for helping other mothers who were struggling to optimally feed their babies. She soon quit her high-powered corporate job and began her training, eventually becoming certified as a lactation manager, an infant and young child feeding specialist, and as a childbirth assistant (doula).
Since then, Esther has helped hundreds of mothers. A recent experience involved a mother and her one and a half year old malnourished daughter who was not yet speaking or walking. When Esther explained to the mom that she should be feeding her baby a mix of proteins, carbohydrates and micronutrient-rich vegetables along with continued breastfeeding, the woman started to weep. No one had ever explained to her what she should be feeding her child, and she had been feeding her only vegetables. With support from Esther, the mom was able to begin to optimally feed her daughter, and she too began to thrive over time as she grew stronger and less malnourished.
Today, Esther is a practicing doula, lactation specialist and an exclusive breastfeeding champion whose clients straddle the economic divide. She teaches new parents to not only juggle exclusive breastfeeding with careers, but also the healthy way to complementary feed children after 6 months, supporting families through multiple visits for the first two years of a baby’s life. Her passion has seen her develop a soft spot for women who come from underprivileged backgrounds and can’t afford to pay for her services. “My husband said – ‘you’re one of the lucky ones. You’re passionate about what you do and are driven to do it, regardless of whether or not you get paid.’ Sometimes, I get paid for my services, but I also do it for free many times,” says Esther. She frequently does pro bono work for individuals, as well as for women’s groups from Kawangware area in Nairobi. Today, many of her new clients are referrals that that have been recommended by previous satisfied parents. And when the pediatricians at the hospital see babies who are having problems breastfeeding, they often send them to Esther. The long-term impact of Esther’s work is evident in both the demand for her services and in the hundreds of thriving children who have received her support.