Breastfeeding: Its health benefits to baby, mother
From Atiku Sarki, Abuja
There is no doubt that the benefit of breastfeeding is well documented to both the baby and the mother.
Breastfed babies have stronger immunity and the risk of suffering from childhood illnesses and infections reduced.
It also provided health benefits to the mother by helping to present postpartum bleeding, support child spacing, lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and earlier return to pre-pregnancy body weight.
Studies have shown that obesity rates are 15 to 30 per cent lower in breastfed babies compared to formula-fed babies.
Despite these benefits, the breast feeding indices in the country are below optimal.
According to the National Demographic and Health Survey 2018, 97 per cent of children are breast fed at one point or the other, but only 42 per cent are put to breast within one hour of birth and the proportion of children from zero to six months who are exclusively breastfed is 29 per cent.
It is also estimated that 20,000 maternal deaths could be prevented annually if optimal breastfeeding is practiced in the nation.
As part of measures to increase optimal breastfeeding practices, the country over the years has joined more than 170 countries to celebrate world breastfeeding week that begin every 1st to 7th of August with series of activities every year.
The aim of the week is to create awareness and generate support to improve breastfeeding practices for good health and well being outcomes for infants, mothers and young children in the society.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week celebration with a theme: ‘Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet’ began with ministerial press briefing from the Federal Ministry of Health in collaboration with Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and other stakeholders, including UNICEF and Good Society organizations.
Briefing newsmen on the celebration of the Week, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osaige Ehanire said the theme of this year focuses on the impact of proper infant feeding on the environment by garnering support for breastfeeding for the health of people and planet.
According to him, breastfeeding is naturally, environmentally friendly, since it does not draw on any resources or create environmental pollution.
In contrast to formula feeding, he said, breast milk is a naturally-renewable and requires no disposal of packaging and its production does not increase carbon foot print.
The minister explained that his ministry has developed the National Social and Behavioral change strategy for infant and young child feeding in order to give optimal breastfeeding practices.
He said his ministry has recommended early initiation of breastfeeding within an hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond and introduction of appropriate complementary food as from six months.
Dr. Ehanire also explained that his ministry, during last year’s event celebration, launched the National Zero Water to address the problem of practice by mothers and caregivers, on giving water to babies from birth to the age of six months.
The campaign to educate the entire people of the nation on the need to give babies only breast milk and no other liquids in the first six months of life, he said, is ongoing in several states.
He further explained that the National Guidelines on the Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) is currently being reviewed and the goal is to incorporate the revised 10 steps to successful breastfeeding.
The minister noted that an investment in breastfeeding is a cost-effective investment in our nation’s health economy and the future workforce.
In her remarks at the event, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame Pauline Tallen, observed a minute silence for all those women who lost their lives during child birth and did not have opportunity to enjoy their lives.
She stressed that in the nation, celebration of the event dated back to 1992 and it coincided with the peak of advocacy around women issues and concerns during the Better Life for Rural Women programmes.
According to her, collaboration of her ministry with the that of health is necessary to eradicate harmful practices to women and girls, including female genital mutilation.
She revealed that her ministry is working to ensure that nursing mothers who are working should continue to breastfeed their babies even after resumption from maternity leave.
The minister also used the opportunity of the celebration to call on organizations at all levels to key into the initiative by setting up support facilities for working mothers.
In his goodwill message, the representative of UNICEF in Nigeria, Peter Hawkin, observed that breastfeeding is not only the cornerstone of a child’s healthy development but a celebration of the bond between a mother and her child as well as a foundation for a country’s economic development and productivity.
He noted that over the years, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the nation has recorded only a minimal improvement, stressing that in 2014, it was 25 per cent down to 23.7 per cent in 2016 and 2017 and again in 2018, it was 29 per cent.
The global target, he said, was to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates in the first six months of life to at least 50 per cent by 2025.
The country UNICEF Representative also observed that the current Covid-19 pandemic has impacted optimal breastfeeding practices through its effect on household incomes and perceptions about the safety of breastfeeding for both mothers and children.
Mr. Hawkin saw the need to support the Ministry of Heath to strengthen the health system through one stop primary health care centres linked with strong community component to provide quality health and nutrition services and quality counselling on child feeding to mothers including those in remote areas.
Also on their contribution during the event, the Minister of State for Health, Senator Dr. Olarunimbe Mamora, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mr. A. M. Abdullahi, the Head of Nutrition and Senior Technical Assistant to the Minister of Health, Dr. Chris Osa Isokpunwu, the Executive Secretary, Civil Society Sealing Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN), Mrs. Beutruie Eluaka among others indicated their interest and readiness to work and promote, protect and support breastfeeding to work successfully in the country.