The theme of the recent world breastfeeding week “Sustaining Breastfeeding’’ is apt as a wake-up call to mothers, fathers, the public and government on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the development of the child.
The activities of the week, from August 1 to August 7, emphasised the benefits of breastfeeding to babies, mothers, families, economic and socio-cultural development of the country.
During the celebration, experts in family planning explained that “exclusive breastfeeding is giving babies breast milk without other milks, foods or liquid such as water, among other food, except when babies are on medical treatment.’’
They noted that breastfeeding served as first immunisation and antibodies to newborns, and at the long run, it would help in the cognitive development of the child.
According to them, breastfeeding assists mothers to stop excessive bleeding after delivery, fast-tracking the reduction of excess fat associated with pregnancy, reduces the risk of breast, ovarian cancer and diabetes, apart from facilitating child spacing.
They cautioned the public to disregard a misconception by some segment of the society that giving concoction to babies immediately after delivery could eliminate dirt from the newborns.
They also noted that breastfeeding babies from birth till six months of the child’s life would not rob them of the benefits of water feeding.
They, therefore, insisted that breast milk as first immunisation should be all encompassing food for children and it would prevent non-communicable diseases.
In her view, the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) nutrition specialist, Mrs Ada Ezeogu,described breast milk as a perfect food and best protection for the child against diseases.
According to her, continuous feeding of the child with breast milk from six months to two years and beyond provides essential nutrient for childhood development.
Ezeogu said that breast milk was fundamental to prevention of childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea, noting that good attachment of the child to breast would enable him or her to suckle.
The nutritionist expressed concern about what she described as 25 per cent exclusive breastfeeding among mothers in Nigeria “which has denied no fewer than 5.4 million children of its benefits.
“Delaying breastfeeding for two to 23 hours after birth increases the risk of the child’s death within 28 days of a baby’s life by 40 per cent.
“Breastfeeding is supposed to be initiated between 30 minutes and one hour after birth and based on UNICEF fact sheet, the low rate of breastfeeding results in 103,742 child’s deaths annually.
“Low up take of exclusive breastfeeding has contributed to the country’s problem of chronic malnutrition resulting in the current 11 million malnourished under-five year old children in the country.’’
Sharing similar sentiments, the Chief of Field Officer of UNICEF in Akure, Mr Tejinder Sadhu, said 13 per cent of child’s death would be averted if 90 per cent of mothers could exclusively breastfeed their infants in the first six months.
“Breastfeeding is not woman’s job only; mothers need assistance and support from their healthcare providers, families, communities, employers and government.
“Together we can support them to breastfeed, protect and help in ensuring the wellbeing of our future generations,’’ he said.
Also, UNICEF Chief of Nutrition in Abuja, Dr Stanley Nanama, said the week provided the government, donor agencies and other stakeholders the opportunity to reflect on how to improve breastfeeding practices.
“Beyond the individual breastfeeding benefits, the country will also benefit from improving breastfeeding practices through increased educational attainment which optimally contributes to boost productivity.
“UNICEF has been providing technical and financial support to the government to scale up nutrition in general, especially maternal, infants and young child feeding.
“We call on the government and other stakeholders to strengthen and reinforce code of marketing breast milk substitutes to protect children against diseases.
“We also urge them to strengthen the policy that support maternity leave and breastfeeding in work places to encourage nursing mothers to breastfeed their babies,’’ he said.
In her view, Mrs Olubunmi Aiyedun, the President of National Association of Nigeria Paediatric Nurses, noted that exclusive breastfeeding reduced the risk of infections in children.
Also, the Desk Officer, Infant and Young Child Feeding/Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, Mrs Grace Mogekwu, said babies should be fed between eight and 12 times daily.
“We encourage mothers to exclusively breastfeed their children at least six months before they introduce formulas and water.
“It is also beneficial to breastfeed for two years because it helps in the overall development of the child.
“A well breastfed child will sleep well and the mother also will have enough rest and take care of herself which will help in boosting production of breast milk.
“We also encourage mothers to eat very well and ensure the child is well breastfed because it is the suckling that helps to produce more milk,’’ Mogekwu advised.
But a working mother who spoke on behalf of mothers in Ibadan, Mrs Temilola Oladele, said lack of crèche in many offices deprived many babies of enjoying exclusive breastfeeding.
She said although majority of the nursing mothers were aware of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, they could not sustain it because of some challenges.
She reminded mothers that complementary feeding could expose the child to many health challenges which could affect them if not properly addressed.
In response to some of the concerns expressed by the public, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has directed the entire employers of labour in the country to prioritise establishment of crèche in their various offices to boost exclusive breastfeeding.
Mrs Rukayat Afonja, Chairperson NLC, Oyo State Council, gave the directive during the celebration of the week.
She noted that with the directive, mothers would be encouraged to exclusively breastfeed their babies up to six months.
The chairperson emphasised that the closeness of babies to their mothers would as well go a long way in improving their productivity at work.
She warned that failure by the employers, whether public or private, to comply with the directive would attract sanctions.
“I urge all nursing mothers here to take this message to their employers that they should establish crèche in their offices and if they fail to comply, report back to any of our chapel closer to you for appropriate action,’’ she said.
All in all, Director, Department of Family Health in the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Adebimpe Adebiyi, says sustaining breastfeeding messages anywhere and at any time will remarkably improve child nutrition in Nigeria.
Imohimi writes for News Agency of Nigeria.