Gina is a mother of four. She said she exclusively breastfed all her babies because she knows the importance of breast milk.
“As a full-time housewife what excuse would I have not to breastfeed my babies well?” she asked the reporter.
“I resigned from where I was working before I had my first child. In the private firm where I was working, I realised it would not be easy when the child comes. So in the seventh month of pregnancy, I resigned and haven’t gone back to work since.
“Before and during antenatal, I learnt about the nutrients in a mother’s breast milk and the benefits to the child. So I made up my mind to breastfeed my kids exclusively for at least six months.
“I am at home 24/7 so my babies had access to the breast milk any time. I have no excuse not to practice exclusive breast feeding.”
Exclusive breastfeeding is when a child is only fed with breast milk without water, infant formula, any other liquid or food.
Breast milk contains antibodies and lymphocytes from the mother that helps the baby resist infections.
Why Exclusive Breastfeeding?
Health experts say breast milk gives infants a good start to life because it contains all the vitamins and nutrients needed in the first six months of their life.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.
Exclusive Breastfeeding has an important role in the prevention of different forms of childhood malnutrition, including wasting, stunting, over- and underweight and micro nutrient deficiencies.
Exclusive Breastfeeding in Nigeria
Sadly, despite the whole benefits associated with it, most mothers in Nigeria do not practise exclusive breastfeeding.
The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2017/2017 disclosed that Nigeria’s breastfeeding rate remains low overall. Only 23.7 percent of babies born in the country are breastfed exclusively.
According to the survey, women in Northern Nigeria rank lowest in breastfeeding their babies exclusively, while women in the South-west zone lead in the practice.
The survey also found that out of the 60 percent of child deaths is attributed directly and indirectly to undernutrition while two-thirds of the deaths are attributed to improper feeding during the first year of existence.
Malnutrition in Children
From the survey, it is evident that the absence of exclusive breastfeeding remains a major drag back on the country’s efforts to stop malnutrition in children.
Data shows that malnutrition contributes to nearly half of all child deaths in Nigeria, that is more than three million children each year.
With over 25 million under-five children suffering wasting and over 10 million stunted, malnutrition has continued to ravage and kill children in Nigeria, especially in the northeastern states.
Cost of Inadequate Breastfeeding
According to UNICEF, inadequate breastfeeding is estimated to cost the Nigerian economy US$21 billion (N6.6 trillion) per year, or 4.1 percent of its gross national income.
Nigerian Mothers Speak
Ignorance is not the only reason most women do not practice exclusive breastfeeding. Studies show the work policies in Nigeria make it difficult for mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding.
In some hospitals in Abuja, mothers explained the challenges that discouraged them from breastfeeding their babies exclusively for six months.
“There is a major difference between my kids who I exclusively breastfed for six months and the youngest who I fed only breast milk for just two months,” Kate Mbah a mother of three said.
“I practised exclusive breastfeeding on two of my children but couldn’t do same for my last daughter because I got overwhelmed with my new job and other life issues.
“I’m not saying she has a problem but her older siblings were more active and did certain things when they were her age,” Mrs Mbah said.
The mother of three started working in a bank in 2015.
Like many other working mothers, Mrs Mbah said her bank’s work schedule did not permit her to exclusively breastfeed her daughter.
She said given experience with her first two older kids whom she exclusively breastfed, it is better to give infants only breast milk than giving them water and other liquids before six months.
Three Month Maternity Leave
Moyo, a second-time mother, said she only breastfed exclusively for the first three months and then started adding other foods because she had to return to work at the end of her maternity leave.
She said if new mothers are given at least six months paid maternity leave, most women would happily stay back at home to breastfeed their babies.
Ngozi, 35, said she was still breastfeeding her second child who is seven months old. The mother of two, however, said she could not practise exclusive breastfeeding for any of her kids because of the nature of her job.
Ngozi, who also works in a private organisation, wished she had more time to breastfeed her kids exclusively.
She felt guilty about it, she said, because she was aware of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.
NUTRITION EXPERTS SPEAK
At a media dialogue in Yola last year, a nutrition consultant with UNICEF, Bamidele Omotola, spoke on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding to both child and mother.
“Any drink or food you introduce to that child before the liver and the kidney matures is a potential pathogen that can disturb the child.
“Most women give their children water or herbal drinks within the first six month, which affects the system of the child. Most times, the child ends up with diarrhea because the quality of the liquids cannot be ascertained.
“The second reason is that the child’s stomach is so small, like about 30ml, so what it can take at a certain time is limited.”
Mr Omotola said most mothers feed their child with other liquids apart from the breast milk because they are ignorant of the nature of the breast milk.
He said the breast milk contains fats immunes, which serve as the first immunisation to a child.
He also said children who are exclusively breastfed have higher IQ than children those not exclusively breastfed.
The nutritionist urged women to practise exclusive breastfeeding because a woman who does not feed her baby with breast milk also risks having breast cancer.