Gina is a mother of four. She said she exclusively breast-fed all her babies because she knows the importance of breast milk.
“As a full-time housewife, what excuse would I have not to breast-feed my babies well?,” she asked?
The discourse above, again, brings to fore the importance of breast-feeding for children.
She continued, “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 then.
“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 breast-feed my kids exclusively for, at least, six months.
“Right now, I am at home all the time so that my babies can have access to the breast milk any time. I have no excuse not to practise exclusive breast feeding.”
Exclusive breast-feeding is when a child is only fed with breast milk without water, infant formula and any other liquid or food.
Specialists say breast milk contains antibodies and lymphocytes from the mother that helps the baby resist infections.
Why exclusive breast-feeding?
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) recommend that infants should be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of life in order to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while at the same time continue to be breast-fed for up to two years or beyond.
Exclusive Breast-feeding has an important role in the prevention of different forms of childhood malnutrition including wasting, stunting, over-and underweight as well as micro nutrient deficiencies.
Exclusive breastfeeding in Nigeria
Sadly, despite the whole benefits associated with it, most mothers in Nigeria do not practise exclusive breast-feeding.
The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2017/2018 disclosed that Nigeria’s breast-feeding rate remains low overall. Only 23.7 percent of babies born in the country are breast-fed exclusively.
According to the survey, women in Northern Nigeria rank lowest in breast-feeding their babies exclusively while women in the South-west zone lead in the practice.
The survey also found out that 60 percent child death in Nigeria is attributed directly and indirectly to under nutrition 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 breast-feeding 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 north-eastern states.
Cost of Inadequate breastfeeding
According to UNICEF, inadequate breast-feeding is estimated to cost the Nigerian economy US$21 billion (N6.6 trillion) per year, or 4.1 percent of its gross national income.
Ignorance is not the only reason most women do not practise exclusive breast-feeding. Studies show the work policies in Nigeria make it difficult for mothers to practice it.
In some hospitals in Abuja, some mothers explained the challenges that discouraged them from breastfeeding their babies exclusively for six months.
“There is a major difference between my kids that I exclusively breast-fed for six months and the youngest whom I fed only breast milk for just two months,” Kate Mbah a mother of three said.
“I practised exclusive breast-feeding 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.
This mother of three started working in a bank in 2015 just about the time she had her daughter.
Like many other working mothers, Mrs Mbah said her bank’s work schedule did not permit her to exclusively breast-feed her daughter.
She said given experience with her first two older kids whom she exclusively breast-fed, 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 breast-fed 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 breast-feed their babies.
Madam Ngozi, 35, said she was still breast-feeding 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 breast-feed her kids exclusively, having understood the importance.
She felt guilty about it because, according to her, she was aware of the importance of exclusive breast-feeding.
Experts on nutrition speak
At a media dialogue in Yola late 2018, 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 mature 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 diarrhoea 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 children with other liquids apart from the breast milk because they are ignorant about the nature of breast milk.
He said the breast milk contains fat immunes which serve as the first immunisation to a child.
He also said that children who are exclusively breast-fed have higher IQ than children those not exclusively breast-fed.
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.