UNICEF says when the cost of low cognitive development and low intelligence quotient (IQ), as well as health cost are added, inadequate breastfeeding is estimated to cost the Nigerian economy US$21 billion (N6.6 Trillion) per year, or 4.1 per cent of its gross national income.
Philomena Irene, UNICEF nutrition specialist, stated this on Tuesday in Kano during a workshop.
According to her, breastfeeding benefits not only individual children and families, but also the entire economy. The World Bank's new investment framework for nutrition notes that every dollar invested in promoting breastfeeding can generate a return of $35 in economic benefits.
Ms Irene said the level of exclusive breastfeeding in Nigeria is only 23.7 per cent, which is very far below the global target of 50 per cent. This low prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding has real consequences in terms of human life, quality of life, and national economic outcomes meaning that more than six million children each year will miss out on its benefits, contributing to the country's problem of chronic child malnutrition. This is especially as 11 million children under five are stunted in Nigeria.
She further explained that inadequate breastfeeding causes over 10 million avoidable cases of childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia and leads to more than 100,000 avoidable child death which translate into almost N18 billion in future economic losses for the country respectively for the cost of treatment and of breastfeeding substitute.
Ms Irene also said that breast milk helps to prevent pneumonia and diarrhoea, two of the leading causes of death for children under five. Babies who are breastfed are 14 times less likely to die than those who are not fed breast milk.
She urged parents and guardian to embrace six months exclusive breastfeeding because it contains all the nutrients and fluids a baby needs for the first six months of life. It is the first immunisation and best protection a baby has against an array of illness and disease.