14 November 2011

Cameroon: Exclusive Breastfeeding Still to Become Reality

Photo: Boakai Fofana/allafrica.com
A mother breastfeeds her baby

Preliminary findings of a health survey by the Ministry of Public Health show a drop in breastfeeding in the country.

It is recommended that babies receive exclusive breast milk for at least six months to avert health complications, but the reality on the ground now is different. Health experts say as days go by, the rate at which mothers breastfeed babies exclusively with breast milk keeps dropping. In Cameroon, 24 per cent of babies were exclusively fed with breast milk, according to 2004 figures. In 2011, things seem to have gotten worse. Only 20 per cent of babies are reported to have exclusively received breast milk from their mothers according to preliminary findings of a health survey made public recently in Yaounde. The survey was conducted by the National Institute of Statistics under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Health from January to August 2011 in 15,000 households in the country.

According to the findings, 98 per cent of babies less than six months were breastfed but only 20 per cent of them received exclusive breast milk. Some 76 per cent of infants aged between six and nine months received complementary food in addition to milk. Chronic malnutrition in infants less than five years stood at 33 per cent with severe cases at 14 per cent. Stunted growth in babies of between 18 to 35 months was evaluated at 42 per cent.

The falling rate of breastfeeding, health experts say, is blamed on urbanisation and the embrace of western culture. While some mothers complain that it is painful breastfeeding, others say they are unable to produce enough milk while many hint that their life styles do not permit it. Other mothers even go as far as complaining that their babies lose weight from breastfeeding. But the prime reason advanced by many nursing mothers for not exclusively breastfeeding up to six months; especially those in urban areas remain the lack of time. "My job did not permit me to breastfeed even for one day," Jacqueline Kebnang said, while adding that when she gave birth to her three-year old baby, she was given two options in the hospital, either to risk the health of the baby by putting her completely on artificial milk, or do exclusive breastfeeding. She preferred the former because she had only one month in the country. Other mothers also explained that their breast milk could not flow to the satisfaction of their babies; reason why they had to opt for artificial feeding.

Health experts however partly blame the drop on the rate of exclusive breastfeeding of infants of less than six months on the environment. The attitude of other people towards women breastfeeding in the public is unacceptable and embarrassing while the relatives and friends find it 'repulsive' to be in the same room when they are breastfeeding. But the lack of knowledge, professional support experience and worry about baby's weight gain were advanced by many nursing mothers.

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