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Exclusive breastfeeding reduces childhood illnesses — Experts

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Stakeholders in infant’s right protection have advocated exclusive breastfeeding for newborn babies, starting within one hour after birth until the baby is six months old. Nutritious complementary foods should then be added, while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond, as this would reduce childhood illnesses among newborns.

They noted that the first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period lowers morbidity and mortality, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, and fosters better development overall. Medical experts said optimal breastfeeding is so critical that it could save the lives of over 820, 000 children under the age of five yearly.

They made this call at the one-day sensitisation meeting of key gatekeepers, traditional and religious leaders in focal states on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, organised by Civil Society, Scaling up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN), in collaboration with Partnership for Improving Nigeria Nutrition System (PINNS), to observe World Breastfeeding Week, held in Ikeja, Lagos.

Executive Director, Vulnerable Welfare Promotion Trust (VWPT), an NGO in Lafia, Nasarawa State, Bar. Ibrahim Azara, said breastfed children have higher intelligence, and that child health and social services often ignore or exclude fathers and do not inform them about breastfeeding support. Supporting breastfeeding is also the responsibility of fathers, as they are expected to provide good nutrition and conducive environment for the nursing mothers.

He said: “World Breastfeeding Week 2020 titled “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet” campaign aims to address gender inequalities to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

“Parental social protection measures are highly needed. These include paid public-funded leave for both parents, flexible workplace policies that enable breastfeeding, as well as state-supported cash transfer programmes for parents and families. Policies and legislation that protect maternity rights, while allowing for a more equal distribution of the burden of care, are integral to achieving greater gender equality and empowerment.

“Parent-friendly workplaces in the formal sector should offer paid leave, a private space with facilities to breastfeed or express and store breast milk, affordable childcare within the workplace or nearby, along with flexible working hours to help mothers continue breastfeed. In the informal sector, we should work to ensure that workers are recognised and protected by national laws that also support optimal breastfeeding.

“Gender-equitable parenting that includes fathers/partners on the parenting team benefit both children and parents. Fathers/partners can learn co-parenting strategies for supporting breastfeeding that are sensitive to what the mother wants and needs. Couples need to agree on their breastfeeding goals and communicate well with each other, especially when there are challenges to breastfeeding.

“Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), well-meaning Nigerians and philanthropists should join hands to support and promote breastfeeding in Nigeria.”

Consultant Public Health Physician, at the Department of Community Health and Primary Health Care Lagos State University College of Medicine, and Coordinator, CS-SUNN, Dr. Modupe Akinyinka, said if breastfeeding were scaled up to near universal level, about 820, 000 child lives would be saved every year, as breastfeeding protects infants. It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses, such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide, especially in this period of coronavirus pandemic.

She said: “Breast milk is readily available and affordable, which helps to ensure that infants get adequate nutrition. Breastfeeding also benefits mothers, as exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural, though not fail-safe method of birth control, about 98 per cent protection in the first six months after birth. It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, and postpartum depression.

“Breastfeeding has long-term benefits for children, as it contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are less likely to have type-II diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests.

“Infant formula does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk. The long-term benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and children cannot be replicated with infant formula. When infant formula is not properly prepared, there are risks arising from the use of unsafe water and unsterilised equipment or the potential presence of bacteria in powdered formula.

“Malnutrition can result from over-diluting formula to stretch supplies. Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) through breastfeeding can be reduced with drugs. An HIV infected mother can pass the infection to her infant during pregnancy, delivery and through breastfeeding. However, antiretroviral therapy (ARV) drugs given to either the mother or HIV-exposed infant reduces the risk of transmission.

Executive secretary Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Agege Local government chapter, Musa Policarp Usman, said after the programme, he has learnt that breastfeeding has the potential to significantly improve infants’ chances of surviving,

Usman explained that marketing of breastmilk substitutes should be highly monitored, and that an international code to regulate the marketing of breast-milk substitutes was adopted in 1981.

“It calls for all formula labels and information to state the benefits of breastfeeding and the health risks of substitutes, no promotion of breast-milk substitutes, no free samples of substitutes to be given to pregnant women, mothers or their families; and no distribution of free or subsidised substitutes to health workers or facilities.

Chairman Lagos State Social Mobilisation Committee and Baale of Marine Beach Apapa, Lagos, Chief Joseph Omobolanle Ogunmola said in Lagos, many newborns miss out on the benefits of early breastfeeding and the reasons are things we can change.

He said mothers simply do not receive enough support to breastfeed within those crucial minutes after birth, even from medical personnel at health facilities.

He said: “If I go back to my place, I will do my best to educate my people about the importance of breastfeeding. I have learnt that breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in Eastern and Southern Africa (65 percent) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32 percent), the report says. Nearly nine in 10 babies born in Burundi, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour. By contrast, only two in 10 babies born in Azerbaijan, Chad and Montenegro do so.”


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