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Sustaining breastfeeding campaigns

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Sustaining breastfeeding campaigns


A major theme of the recent “Breastfeeding Week” celebrated across the country was the increasing dumping of breastfeeding by the nation’s mothers, contrary to prescriptions from local and global health agencies. Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, who confirmed that the rate of breastfeeding had reduced drastically, described breastfeeding as “the most nutritious, hygienic and cost-effective form of nourishment for the infant” and also beneficial to the health of mothers. The World Health Organisation has recommended exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and as supplementary feeding for two years. But Nigeria’s exclusive breastfeeding rate dropped from 17 per cent in 2003 to 13 per cent in 2008, according to the National Demographic Health Survey. United Nations Children’s Fund has said that breastfeeding can reduce infant mortality worldwide by up to 13 per cent. It has found that less than 15 per cent of Nigerian babies under six months are exclusively breastfed. Surprisingly, global institutions have been striving to make the nation’s mothers adhere to what used to be the norm in the country. WHO says less than 40 per cent of women worldwide breastfeed exclusively as mothers continue to abandon a practice which the institution claims can save 1.3million children’s lives globally. Nigeria, however, appears to be in a more dire situation.

In 2009, UNICEF noted that while Nigeria had two per cent of the world’s population, it had 12 per cent of all deaths of children under the age of five. UNICEF’s Executive Director, Ann M Veneman, observed that “under-nutrition is an underlying cause in one third of all under-five deaths.” Due to its linkage to the survival of children, the ability of Nigeria to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing infant mortality from about 100 deaths per 1,000 live births to a target of 35 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2015 will depend on how mothers embrace breastfeeding.

Substitute infant formulae, experts have found, are not an acceptable substitute for breast milk because they only seek to replace most of the nutritional components of breast milk. A formula is just a food, while breast milk is a complex living nutritional fluid, containing anti-bodies, enzymes, long chain fatty acids and hormones, many of which simply cannot be included in formula. In the first few months, it is hard for the baby’s gut to absorb anything other than breast milk.

Surprisingly, educated mothers who ought to have realized the implications of denying their children this God-given food are among the most negligent. While some regard the practice as old-fashioned, others avoid it with the mistaken belief that it makes the breasts to sag. This has since been proved incorrect. Some mothers however complain of lack of child care facilities in work environments while the length of time for maternity leave remains inadequate. The relevant authorities need to look into this. But to both child and mother, breastfeeding is full of invaluable benefits.

In particular, experts have found that breastfeeding has profound impact on a child’s survival, health, nutrition and development. Breast milk, according to studies, contains all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals an infant needs for growth for the first six months, and no other liquids or foods are needed. Breast milk also carries anti-bodies from the mother that help fight diseases while the act itself stimulates proper growth of the mouth and jaw, and secretions of hormones for digestion and satiety. Breastfeeding creates a special bond between mother and baby which has positive effects on the child’s life in terms of stimulation, behavior, speech, sense of well-being and security, and how the child relates to other people. It also lowers the risks of chronic conditions, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma and leukemia later in life. Breastfed children have also proved to do better in behaviour and intelligence tests than formula-fed babies.

Breastfeeding helps mothers’ post-delivery health as it reduces the risk of post-partum haemorrhage. While, in the short term, breastfeeding delays return to fertility, in the long term, it reduces Type Two diabetes and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. A link has also been established between early cessation of breastfeeding and post-natal depression in mothers.

To cope with the challenges of abandoned breastfeeding, the Nigerian government established the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative in Benin, Enugu, Maiduguri, Lagos, Jos and Port Harcourt to provide mothers and their infants a supportive environment for breastfeeding, thus helping to reduce infant morbidity and mortality rates. Due to lack of appreciable results, the Federal Ministry of Health has been considering engaging those it referred to as “religious mothers” to encourage the practice. The Lagos State Government said recently that it had concluded plans to establish crèches in the various state ministries as part of strategies to promote exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of a baby’s life. Also, the recent threat by the National Agency for Foods Drugs Administration and Control to impose relevant sanctions on infant food manufacturers and marketers who had been flouting the international codes on Breast Milk Substitutes must have been informed by the urgent need to create the right environment for improving child health and ending the embarrassing level of infant mortality in the country. The registration process for infant formulae, according to the agency, is under review to ensure full compliance with the code, “particularly as it concerns labelling on infant formulae.”

BMS international guideline is a baby-friendly initiative aimed at promoting exclusive breastfeeding as the best nutrition option for babies above substitute infant formulae. The governments should enforce all international codes on infant formulae to properly enlighten the prospective patrons of such products. The federal, state and local governments and other corporate bodies should create the right environment for working mothers. Labour organisations in the country ought to be in the forefront of agitation for the rights of working mothers. More enlightenment campaigns are needed at all levels of government. The nation’s mothers require immediate reorientation to safeguard the country’s future. - Nigerian news, Editorials, Commentaries, Opinions, naija, Nigeria, West Africa

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Updated 7 Years ago

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