19 May 2017

Nigeria: Why Women Must Embrace Exclusive Breastfeeding

Mrs Kubechi Okoye swings her beautiful baby girl from her left to her right, and finally places her on her lap, preparing to breastfeed her.

She looks up and smiles saying, "you are wondering why my baby is so healthy, it's no secret; am doing exclusive breastfeeding and I can gladly say it's a miracle drug for all babies and a must do for mothers."

Okoye explains that she first heard of EBF (Exclusive Breastfeeding) when she started attending antenatal for her first pregnancy.

"I practiced EBF with my first baby who is two years plus now and this one is six weeks. My children are strong and we never visited the hospital even when the first one was teething. We only visit the clinic for immunisation.

"As you can see, she is quite healthy and big, she is six weeks old but people think she is up to four months because of her size."

Okoye proudly showed off her baby at a workshop organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Ministry of Information and Culture, in collaboration with UNICEF (United Nations Children Fund) on nutrition and community management of acute malnutrition in Enugu, recently.

Mrs Ude Assumpta who joined other breastfeeding mothers with her five months two weeks old baby said she adopted EBF due to what she heard during the health talk during her antenatal days.

"The nurse told us that EBF helped babies to be strong, smart and intelligent, and I desire it for my baby," She said.

She added that she noticed that her baby was immuned to sickness because they had never had any reason to visit the hospital because of any illness.

According to her, she made up her mind to go on with it even after she was through with the six-month EBF.

Mrs Assumpta advised other mothers to do all they could to adopt EBF for their babies, saying, "Not giving formula to my baby does not mean I don't have money but I chose breastfeeding because of the benefits derived and I decided to stick to it. It is cheaper, safer and rewarding."

The Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), Dr Chris Isokpunwu, while presenting a paper titled, 'Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria: What will it Cost?', noted that unfortunately the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Nigeria was quite low at about 25 per cent.

In Nigeria, from an estimated 2014 National Nutrition and Health Survey, about 7 million children are born every year and only 25 per cent of them are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, leaving almost 5 million deprived.

Dr Isokpunwu lamented that despite several advocacy and campaigns for women to imbibe the culture of exclusive breastfeeding, the outcome was quite discouraging and that EBF was progressing at a snail's pace, leaving a lot of children at risk of several childhood diseases.

Dr Isokpunwu said according to the 2014-2015 survey conducted in 1990: "The EBF rate was 2 per cent, in 2003, it shot up to about 17 per cent, but unfortunately dropped to 13 per cent in 2008, and went up to 17 per cent again in 2013 due to intervention and now we are at about 25 percent."

He said that most child-bearing women were ignorant of the benefits of breastfeeding, and sadly also, majority of the women folk did not know how to breastfeed their babies properly.

"These women, instead of learning or going for antenatal where they can be taught by the nurses, instead decide to look for alternative feeding methods at the risk of the child.

"Some just don't want to breastfeed because they don't want their breasts to fall or lose their firmness, but that is not so. Breastfeeding your baby helps position the baby to fight all kinds of childhood diseases.

"Breastfeeding which could have been our lifeline to save babies and reduce our maternal and infant indices has still not made the kind of impact that would change our health indices," he said.

According to the Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF Nigeria, Arjan de Wagt: "Babies who are fed nothing but breast milk from the moment they are born until they are six months old grow and develop better because breast milk gives a child a head start in life and a chance to fight child malnutrition later in life."

UNICEF is worried that about 5 million newborn miss out of this head start in life because for whatever reasons, their mothers denied them on this very important life-saving nutrient and antibodies.

"We know that the pressure to give water to newborns in addition to breast milk is high. But the stomach of a baby is so small it can barely hold 60 millilitres of liquid and when it is filled with water, it leaves no room for breast milk and its life-sustaining nutrients," said Arjan de Wagt.

Zakaria Fusheini, nutrition specialist, UNICEF Nigeria, noted that alternative methods of feeding were not helping the EBF policy.

"For every one million formula fed babies, 150 million containers of formula are consumed, many of which end in landfills," he said.

Another nutrition specialist, UNICEF, Ngozi Onuorah, during the workshop, expressed concern over the non-compliance of mothers in sticking to the practice of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months.

She said that EBF in the first six months of life made the child immuned to any kind of sickness and disease, adding that it was a free gift of nature and the result spoke for a lifetime.

Mrs. Onuorah said that giving the baby the first milk or substance that came out of the breast as against extracting it out as bad milk is the best immunisation for any child.

"There is no fact behind extracting out the colostrum before a new born is breastfed. It is a mere myth and no truth in it, " she said.

Enugu State Nutritional Officer, Ministry of Health, Henriata Ugwu, said that EBF helped in the development of the brain.

"Even when supplementary food is introduced the mother still needs to continue breastfeeding the child for up to two years and not just to stop it completely after six months," she said.

For many mothers like Kubechi Okoye who are practicing EBF, there is no going back on the policy, as she queried, "Why will I choose death instead of life for my baby after waiting anxiously for her for nine months to come out of my stomach.

"Breastfeeding is my miracle drug, it's cheap, free and available, and most importantly it brings me closer to my baby, they call it bonding."

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