By Mary Agidi
Breastfeeding is the feeding of babies with milk from a woman’s breast that begins within the first hour of a baby’s life and continue as often and as much as the baby wants.
Breastfeeding, especially when it is done exclusively for six months has a number of benefits to both mother and baby, which infant formula lacks. Apart from serving as hunger quencher for infants who couldn’t eat adult’s food, breastfeeding contains some vitamins that aids in the growth of some vital organs and enhance better functioning of such.
Report has it that deaths of an estimated 820,000 children under the age of five could be prevented globally every year with increased breastfeeding as breastfeeding decreases the risk of respiratory tract infections and diarrhea, lowers risks of asthma , food allergies, type 1 diabetes , and leukemia.
Health experts noted that breastfeeding may also improve cognitive development and decrease the risk of obesity in adulthood.
According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), establishing exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life helps young children grow, preventing under nutrition, promoting brain development, and reducing the risk that children will become overweight.
The health organisation explains further that breastfeeding is also a newborn’s first vaccine, providing vital antibodies and an immunity boost.
“From the earliest moments of a child’s life, breastfeeding can mean the difference between life and death. Putting newborns to the breast within the first hour of life safeguards against newborn deaths. In fact, improving breastfeeding practices could save the lives of 823,000 children under age five every year”, (WHO).
It was affirmed that in communities that are faced with limited access to clean water and basic health services, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for infants and young children, while shielding them from disease.
Despite these clear benefits, many children are missing out and the need to create awareness on these benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the child gave rise to the separation of a whole week to celebrate breastfeeding worldwide between August 1-7 annually.
The theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week “ Breastfeeding: Foundation for Life” is according to WHO, a recognition of the importance of breastfeeding to a baby’s future.
Marking the week in Ondo State with a symposium, the wife of the state governor Arabinrin Betty-Anyanwu Akeredolu called on nursing mothers to embrace exclusive breastfeeding for their children to be nutritionally balanced and experience optimal growth compared to their peers who are not exclusively breastfeed.
Akeredolu noted that if the practice of exclusive breastfeeding can increase significantly, Nigeria will not only see her infant survive, but will also raise properly developed children.
Meanwhile, report has it that globally, only about two out of five of all newborns are put to the breast within an hour of birth and only 40 per cent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfeed, hence the need for more awareness campaign by every stakeholder (health organisations, government, husbands, etc).
There are many reasons why millions of women are unable to start and continue breastfeeding successfully.
For example, many women give birth without access to the quality care, counselling and support they need from health workers. Others are given infant formula or other substitutes in maternity facilities, when they could be breastfeeding.
“We must find new ways and new political will to help these children, wherever they live, benefit from the lifesaving benefits of breastfeeding”, (WHO).
Advocating for adequate breastfeeding, Mrs Akeredolu also charged all stakeholders to continue to work together to save the lives of children by advocating for optimal breastfeeding in their social space.“It is our duty as religious leaders, community leaders, policy makers, nursing mothers and husbands to ensure our children grow optimally through adequate breastfeeding.
“To our husbands, please do not think you are excluded from ensuring optimal breastfeeding.
“Truly you cannot breastfeed, but you can support the nursing mother by helping with house chores,” she said.
Speaking at the symposium, the United Nations Children’s Fund Nutrition specialist in Ondo state, Mrs Ada Ezeogu called for the need for the state government to increase the months for maternity leave, to enable nursing mothers breastfeed their children adequately.
According to Ezeogu, UNICEF is committed to creating awareness on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and would continue to advocate for the rights of children all over the world.
Also, the Global Breastfeeding Collective ,a partnership of more than 20 international agencies and non-governmental organisations co-led by UNICEF and WHO in its 2018 scorecard release calls for more action and investment in a number of areas which include increased funding for comprehensive breastfeeding programmes, better monitoring systems to track breastfeeding trends.
Other recommendations by Global Breastfeeding Collective are strengthened maternity and paternity leave provisions that encourage breastfeeding, and improved breastfeeding counselling and support in health facilities.
Breastfeeding is indeed the foundation for life and gives growing children a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and develop to their full potential.
On this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, let us also recommit to doing more to help every child, everywhere, realize the lifesaving benefits of breastfeeding, no matter where they live, says WHO.
Breastfeeding is said to be less expensive than infant formula, reason the health organisations, including the WHO, recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months in as much as the mother is healthy enough to breastfeed void of any health condition that can tamper with the health of the baby.
According to the UNICEF nutrition specialist, Ezeogu, the Short-Term Health Benefits of breastfeeding include, fewer infections, fewer gastrointestinal disorders, lower risk of Sudden Infant Death syndrome, emotional bonding & loving relationship between mother and baby, while the Long-Term Health benefits are, improved growth and development, higher IQ, lower risk of obesity, more emotionally secure, improved cardiovascular disease through life, lower risk of childhood cancer (including leukemia), and lower risk of diabetes.
She however stated in her presentation recently that starting from six months, babies need other foods in addition to breast milk and recommended that breastfeeding with complementary foods should be continued for up to two years and beyond, adding that when adequate nutrition in childhood prevent stunted growth.
Finally, other benefits for the mother who practice exclusive breastfeeding include less blood loss following delivery, better uterus shrinkage, and less postpartum depression. Breastfeeding delays the return of menstruation and fertility, a phenomenon known as lactational amenorrhea. Long term benefits for the mother include decreased risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease , and rheumatoid arthritis.