File photo used only for illustrative purpose
Infant mortality has remained a huge challenge in Nigeria. Despite interventions by government and other stakeholders like the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental organisations, which advocate healthy living conditions to save the lives of infants, the death toll keeps on climbing the ladder.
Though different incidences account for the problem, the major factor has been largely attributed to inadequate breastfeeding. A nutritionist, Mrs. Ada Ezeogu, disclosed that over 103,742 children die in Nigeria annually due to poor breastfeeding by nursing mothers. She made the disclosure at a two-day Media Dialogue on Breastfeeding and Global Breastfeeding Collective with the theme: “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together.”
It was organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF and sponsored by the Department for International Development (DFID). It attracted scores of medical personnel and nutritionists who brainstormed on the benefits of breastfeeding and its roles in averting infant mortality in the country.
Ezeogu said nursing mothers’ failure to embark on exclusive breastfeeding of their babies (feeding infants without giving them water or any form of infant formula or food) for a period of six months after birth, had been largely responsible for infant mortality.
She stressed that breast milk contains virtually all the necessary nutrients and fluids needed by babies for the first six months of life and insisted on the need to absolutely feed the baby with it due to its rich health benefits. She said UNICEF and World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that breastfeeding be initiated within 30 minutes of birth without any infant formula or any other food for the next six months and be continued with complimentary feeding with other age appropriate foods until at least 24 months.
She added that breast milk contains all the necessary nutrients such as fats, vitamins, carbohydrates, and most importantly protein needed to build the body tissues and keep a baby healthier and stronger.
Ezeogu said it was the first and best protection a baby has against an array of sicknesses and illnesses: “It is a critical first vaccine for the baby.”
Breast milk, she said, prevents pneumonia and diarrhea; two of the leading cases of death for children under five years of age:
“Children breastfed exclusively were likely to eat better than children not given breast milk up to six months and those given infant formula. The weight gain of children given exclusive breastfeeding for six months was a bit lower than within the normal range and such children might not suffer from obesity; whereas children that take formula milk gain weight faster and tend to be obese in both child and adulthood.”
She quoted a UNICEF report as saying that 1.7 million deaths in Nigerian children below five years of age are connected with malnutrition problem. She condemned any other form of baby foods, which she said make them vulnerable to infection and diseases, leading to infant mortality.
The UNICEF consultant disclosed that lack of exclusive breastfeeding makes infants vulnerable to different diseases and ailments that lead to infant mortality: “Children exclusively breastfed for six months are less likely to have tract infection, diarrhea, type 2 diabetes, pneumonia, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and high blood pressure compared with children given infant formula.”
She added that breastfeeding promotes good health and high intelligence quotient among children who enjoyed exclusive breastfeeding at infancy.
While lamenting the poor rate of breastfeeding despite the benefits, the Ezegu also noted:
“Exclusive breastfeeding of children below the age of six months is only 17 percent, which means that at least 5.4 million children do not get the powerful health and immunological benefits of breastfeeding each year.”
She explained that when cognitive losses and health costs were added, inadequate breastfeeding was estimated to cost the Nigerian economy $21 billion per year or 4.1 percent of its Gross National Index (GNI): “With the current high birth rate in Nigeria, inadequate breastfeeding which results in about 103,742 child deaths each year would translate to almost $12 billion in future economic losses for the country.”
She charged health care providers to sensitise the public on the benefits of breastfeeding: “There is need for all to rise up for the awareness as early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death. Government alone cannot fight this cause, hence, the need for collaboration with agencies, NGOs and other partners and organizations to advocate how best to address the issue.
“Breastfeeding could help to provide children with the healthiest start to life. Breastfeeding also acts as the child’s first vaccine by providing antibodies.”
Ezeogu stressed the need for optimum exclusive breastfeeding for babies. She urged family members, especially husbands, health workers and government agencies to support nursing mothers to embark on exclusive breastfeeding. She warned against use of infant formula and water while breastfeeding babies during the six-month period, warning that it posed health risks for the baby.
Investigations showed that nursing mothers, too, enjoy certain benefits of breastfeeding as it helps them to burn extra calories. It also helps them to lose pregnancy weight faster after giving birth. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size. It may also reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also helps to lower mothers’ risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Since breastfeeding mothers don’t have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles, breastfeeding saves their time and money. It also gives them a regular time to relax quietly with their newborn as they bond during breastfeeding.
Nursing mothers shared their breastfeeding experiences with Daily Sun. Mrs. Badmus Ganiyat, a nurse: “I did exclusive breastfeeding for my daughter, Hibatullah. She is my first child. She is one year and five months old now. I started breastfeeding her 30 minutes after birth.
I breastfed her for six months without giving her a drop of water or infant formula. She was always satisfied with the breast milk because she never cried to give any impression of hunger.
“I stopped exclusive breastfeeding two weeks later after the six months. But when I started giving her water, she was rejecting it because she became addicted to the breast milk. Now, I do complementary breastfeeding for her by giving her both breast milk and water, including other kinds of food such as tea, palp, beans, rice, amala, bread fish and others.
“I notice a lot of the benefits of exclusive feeding in her. For instance, she has never fallen sick. She is very strong, smart and intelligent. She has not started school, but can identify all the parts of her body. She can speak English very well and does anything you ask her to do.”
Abigail Babalola, a journalist: “I did exclusive breastfeeding for my first two babies, a girl and a boy. I am currently doing it for my new baby who is four months old. I started 30 minutes after giving birth to the first babies and 20 minutes after the new one. They never cried of lack of satisfaction.
“The first two children only gave signs of lack of satisfaction when they were about six months old and would rush for water and food when they saw me drinking and eating. That almost compelled me to start complimentary breastfeeding (supplementing breast milk with water and food). But I was determined to breastfeed them till the six months duration and I did it successfully. It was after a week later that I started giving breast milk, water, tea and other kinds of food. But they never tasted any infant formula up till today.
“The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding are enormous. One of them is that they hardly fall sick. They are very strong and healthy. They are also very brilliant. Their intelligent quotient is high the way I am looking at them.”
Hannah Emmanuel, a businesswoman: “When I gave birth to my first daughter, my intention was to give her baby food (infant formula). In my time, there was no much awareness about exclusive breastfeeding. Giving babies expensive infant formula in those days was a pride.
“But it was amazing that when I gave birth and started giving her baby food, she rejected it outright and I was surprised. She preferred breast milk.
“That was how I ended up doing exclusive breastfeeding for her until six months. At that age, she started rushing for water, bread, fish and other foods. She started eating foods such as fish, beans, bread and amala.
“When I had my boy, four years later, he behaved the same way. He too, rejected baby food. So, I was compelled to do exclusive breastfeeding for him too for six months and continued with complimentary breastfeeding after then.
“Both of them are very strong, smart, and active. They were able to walk before they clocked one year. The girl started walking when she was 11 months but the boy walked when he was 10. They are very intelligent and brilliant in school. They are also very healthy and hardly fall sick.”
But Mrs. Modinat Kolawole has a different story to tell: “I didn’t know much about exclusive breastfeeding when I gave birth to my first daughter 15 years ago. So, when I put to bed, I started giving her breast milk and baby food almost immediately. I also gave her water. Sometimes, I even gave her agbo (herbs). I never knew the implications that it could lead to sickness. She started adding weight seriously until she grew bigger up to four months when I started giving her other infant formula.
“When she started approaching 15 years, she was becoming obese and we (the family) were surprised at her growth. Not only that, she started falling sick from time to time. Though not all children that took infant formula would fall sick or become obese, but my daughter’s case was different. For her, it was from one sickness to the other until we lost her.
“After then, I had another baby one year later. He is a boy. When a friend of mine who is a nurse visited me in the hospital, she advised me to do exclusive breastfeeding for him. She enlightened me on how to do it and the benefits. I did it for six months and discovered that my boy is very strong, active and intelligent. He is also very healthy.
“In fact, he could eat better when I started giving him other foods after the six months exclusive breastfeeding. With these benefits, I decided to do exclusive breastfeeding for my remaining two children that I had later and they are all healthy, smart and intelligent.”
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