By Oghenemaro Eruteyan
Federal Government, in a recent survey alerted Nigerians that only 29 per cent of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed, while 42 per cent are put to breast within the first hour of birth.
The Federal Government made this known in a press statement signed by the Director of media at the Federal Ministry of Health, Patricia Deworitshe, in commemoration of the 2023 World Breastfeeding Week.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended continued exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6months with introducing appropriate complementary foods for 12months to two years of age.
National Breastfeeding Policy in Nigeria has said that all mothers shall be encouraged and assisted to put their newborn infants to breast within half hour of delivery for protection against illnesses, and provision of lactation rooms, paid maternity leave, breastfeeding breaks at workplaces should be encouraged as it is essential.
Approximately half of the world’s countries fulfill the three key requirements of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 183: they provide for at least 14 weeks of leave, at a rate of at least two-thirds of previous earnings, paid by social insurance or public funds.
Unfortunately, this leaves 649million women without adequate maternity protection.
To achieve an increased rate of exclusive breastfeeding, these preceding points would be necessary.
Provision of hygienic breastfeeding rooms, storage facilities, breastfeeding breaks, and access to child care can promote breastfeeding.
Adequate advocacy to National Governments and employers to develop and implement lactation policies in workplaces at both the public and private sectors across the Nations. Father’s paternal leave should be considered as it will help facilitate the father-child bond, and promote support to breastfeeding mothers.
National Demographic and Health Survey, 2018 have stated that exclusive breastfeeding is under threat, as not up to half of our children are properly breastfed within one hour of birth, and about 71 per cent not privileged to enjoy the health benefits of breast milk within zero-six months.
World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), a global socio-political movement celebrated on the first week of August, in commemoration of the 1990s Innocenti Declaration. Endorsed to create awareness and galvanise action on themes related to motherhood, and support breastfeeding across the Nations.
The 2023 WBW’s theme focuses on work, and breastfeeding as it envisages promoting the practices that support breastfeeding in work-related scenarios.
Globally, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding of infants is about 40 percent, still a long run to achieving the 100 percent global target coverage recommended by UNICEF, evident in the prevailing low observance of exclusive breastfeeding (ESP) in developing countries particularly in central and west Africa having a high rate of infant malnutrition.
In Nigeria, national survey has reported that only 29 percent of infants less than six months wereexclusively breastfed, while only 42 percent were put to breast within the first hour of birth.
In sub-Saharan Africa, only 20 percent of women were reported to exclusively breastfeed their infants. In North Africa, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding is 41 percent and 44 percent in Asia, 30 percent in Latin America and only 25 percent in Africa. Exclusive breastfeeding is challenged by dearth of knowledge.
Different socio-cultural beliefs have shaped the attitude towards exclusive breastfeeding. They include insufficient milk production, traditional beliefs (myths), maternal stress, maternal malnutrition, convenient lactation rooms and early resumption of work after birth.
Insufficient milk production is a prevalent concern in about 60-90 percent of women in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) as an impediment to early and exclusive breastfeeding. Mothers find it difficult to produce milk within the first few days of and after birth this is a result of maternal stress, malnutrition, illness and myths.
Studies reporting on healthcare professional’s perspectives in providing breastfeeding support highlights, improving maternal education, increased breastfeeding frequency, and HCW training on improving milk production, and adequate nutrition during breastfeeding UNICEF has said that only 9 percent of Nigerian organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy with only 1.5 per cent in the public sector. From the data, it is imperative to however state that, in Nigeria, career mothers are experiencing challenges concerning breastfeeding in their workplaces.
The importance of ESP to both mothers and infants cannot be overemphasized. Mothers who breastfeed their infants stand a lower risk of; breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Infants, exclusively breastfed have lower risks of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, severe lower respiratory disease, Acute otitis media(ear infection), sudden infant death syndrome, and gastrointestinal infections amongst others.
Medical and health experts have given their take on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.
Speaking with The Hope, Adaeze Menekpugi, a maternal health advocate has said that, the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding are numerous and children not exclusively breastfed are prone to infections and diseases as their immune system is weak.
Her words: “Breast milk builds an infant’s antibodies to boost their immune system which aids high resistance to diseases, and improves growth and development. Mothers must begin breastfeeding immediately after parturition with the first milk secreted (colostrum) as it contains nutrients vital for development and survival.”
Adaeze further gave reasons for the inability to exclusively breastfeed, she said lack of awareness/education, and thousands of women who have and are yet to birth lacks proper enlightenment on the need and implications of not breastfeeding. Another reason mentioned was poverty having an impact on a breastfeeding mother, as only a mother who eats proper nutritious food can exclusively breastfeed. “A mother’s Breastmilk is as rich as what she takes.”
She added that government should tackle poverty to improve the standard of living. Mothers should make it a priority to exclusively breastfeed their babies.
She, therefore, recommended that, campaigns and awareness should be given to women in both rural and urban areas.
Advanced and older generation women should advise and support exclusive breastfeeding.
Charles Ibobo, a doctor at Obiaruku General Hospital further said that “Children not exclusively breastfed are prone to reduced immunity, and predisposed to diseases like diarrhoea, nausea, fever, and anaemia as a result of unclean utensils used to feed them.”
He added that poverty is a major impediment to exclusive breastfeeding. It is only a mother who can afford to feed well that can venture into exclusive breastfeeding. Illiteracy is again a setback as only an enlightened mother is informed about the benefits and implications of exclusive breastfeeding.
He suggested that government should ensure that healthcare services are free to mothers and infants, and there should be massive education, and palliative for mothers to assist and improve exclusive breastfeeding.
Anita Blessing, a nurse at Wima Fertility Hospital said that breastfeeding is quintessential, but however mothers who have maternal health conditions like excessive bleeding and illness are advised not to breastfeed their neonates for a while.