The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old
When Abiola Oyebode, 29-year-old mother of two living in Kubwa, Abuja, gave birth to her second child, Precious, in January 2021, she made a vow to herself, despite being a career mother, to feed her daughter with only breastmilk for six months.
“I made that decision based on evidence and experience from my first child Favor, who I breastfed exclusively for six months. She was a healthy baby and at two years 10 months, she rarely falls ill. That informed my decision to also exclusively breastfeed my second child. It was not easy feat as a career mother but with the help of my husband and in-laws I was able to pull through”, she said.
Breastfeeding has been proven to be the best way to provide infant with the nutrients they need for strong immune system. But it’s a lot of work and can be challenge for many mothers.
For Mrs Glory Nahom, a 38-year-old mother of three, exclusively breastfeeding her third child is a feat she is determined to achieve as she was not able to do so with her previous two children.
“I am a mother of three and this is my first time doing six-month exclusive breast feeding. I know breastmilk is the best for a child but the task can be extremely challenging especially for us working moms. I am trying as no formula will ever give my child the nutrition from breast milk. My doctor’s encouragement during ante-natal care made me do this with strong support from my husband.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old. Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years. However, many women in Nigeria have not been able to keep up with the practice. Despite the socio-economic and health benefits of breastfeeding, statistics from the National Demographic and Health Survey 2018, indicate that Nigeria’s breastfeeding indices are still below optimal.
Only 42% of babies are put to breast within 1 hour of birth and 29% of children zero to six months are exclusively breastfed.
Speaking on the importance of breastfeeding to mothers and the child, Dr Rukayya Wammako, the Director Primary Health Care at the FCT Primary Health Care Board noted that, “Exclusive breastfeeding helps the uterus to compress and get back to normal after delivery. The intelligence quotient (IQ) of a child that has been exclusively breastfed is way higher than that of a child that isn’t.
However, a woman that is exclusively breastfeeding cannot do it single handedly, she needs support of her spouse, her workplace and the entire community. The spouse needs to understand how demanding the process is and also provide her with the necessary food that will aid in providing nutrition while the work place needs to provide avenue and support for the mother to do so.”
She posited that reastfeeding is very important to the child, the first breast milk, cholesterol contains antigens that serve as immunization to the child and is required to be the first feed of the baby. “We are currently creating awareness to make people understand and accept exclusive breastfeeding in the country by social mobilization, community engagement and stakeholder engagement. We are also advocating for workplaces to provide breastfeeding facilities to support nursing mothers”, Dr Wammako added.
WHO in a series of Lancet publications on breastfeeding, reports that scaling up breastfeeding practices to almost universal level could prevent an estimated 823 000 annual deaths, or 13·8% of all deaths of children younger than 24 months, while an estimated 20,000 maternal deaths could be prevented annually if optimal breastfeeding is practiced. Indeed, breastfeeding is the smartest investment for child survival, growth and development; as well as the health and wellbeing of the mother, family and the nation.
“The importance of promoting, supporting and protecting breastfeeding by all stakeholders is critical to ensure a shared responsibility that will improve the breastfeeding rates and practices in communities for the survival of our children” said Dr Joy Ufere Technical Officer, Child and Adolescent Health, WHO.
“To promote breastfeeding in all sectors in Nigeria, we are currently building capacities of community structures, support groups and caregivers to improve health seeking behavior, early initiation, exclusive and continued breastfeeding. we are also calling on organizations to make room for nursing mothers which will support them in breastfeeding exclusively” mentioned Mrs Clementina Ebere Okoro FCT Nutrition officer”.
Breast milk is the natures food to the infant which comes with immunity protection and enhances bonding between mother and child.
She added that “we also appreciate WHO’s collaboration with us in promoting breastfeeding, it was really magnificent”.