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Breast-feeding: Over 5m Nigerian newborns deprived essential nutrients- UNICEF



Ahead of this year’s World Breast-feeding Week, recent data from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), says more than 5 million newborns in the country are deprived of essential nutrients and antibodies against diseases and death, as they are not being exclusively breastfed.

According to the report, Nigeria’s lack of progress in exclusive breastfeeding denies millions of newborns in Nigeria the benefits of breast milk.“Lack of exclusive breast-feeding is implicated in the current high rate of child malnutrition in Nigeria. Exclusive breastfeeding is free and breast milk is readily available. So, exclusive breastfeeding should be our first strategy in fighting child malnutrition,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

Research shows that an exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child and that breastfeeding drastically reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea; two major child killer diseases.

Approximately seven million children are born in Nigeria every year and, according to the 2014 National Nutrition and Health Survey, only 25 per cent are exclusively breastfed from zero to six months of age.

“We know that the pressure to give water to newborns in addition to breast milk is high. But the stomach of a baby is so small it can barely hold 60 millilitres of liquid and when it is filled with water, it leaves no room for breast milk and its life sustaining nutrients,” said Arjan de Wagt,
UNICEF Nigeria Chief of Nutrition.

“Babies who are fed nothing but breast milk from the moment they are born until they are six months old develop better. Breast milk gives a child a head start in life and a chance to fight child malnutrition later in life.

Nigeria’s progress in exclusive breast-feeding is very slow. Over 10 years, it has increased its exclusive breast-feeding rate from 12 per cent to only 25 per cent. By comparison, in 1994, both Ghana and Nigeria had both exclusive breast-feeding rates of 7.4, but by 2013 Ghana had moved up to 63 per cent,” the report said.

The National Food and Nutrition policy 2014-2019 has a strong exclusive breastfeeding component, and while UNICEF has welcomed the policy, it urges Nigerian government to include a budget line for nutrition in the health sector budget and a timely release of budget for immediate programming.

UNICEF also commends the initiative of the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, which was announced in July to address child malnutrition and recommends that exclusive breast-feeding should be a strong component of her initiative.

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