Exclusive breastfeeding: Experts canvass panacea for meeting WHO recommendation
Newborn babies always bring joy to their mothers. But Ngozi’s experience seemed to be a departure from the norm. The reason was not far-fetched. Ngozi had prolonged labour. This made even the cry of the newborn baby for care to irritate her. Ngozi’s mother had to use a feeding bottle to suckle the crying baby.
But for Olawunmi, there was no prolonged labour. Her inability to breastfeed her baby exclusively for six months as recommended by her doctor was as a result of her mother-in-law’s insistence that the baby must take water.
She said: “I understand the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for six months. Whenever I give the baby to my mother-in-law, she would give her water. If I complained, she would ask whether I always ate without drinking.
“Efforts to make her understand why she should not give the baby water proved abortive. And because I didn’t want to have issues with her, I complied. Sometimes she would give local herbs to the baby and told me that my husband also drank herbs when he was a baby. She said that was the reason he didn’t get sick even as an adult.”
For Bolanle, who had her baby through Caesarean Section (CS), she couldn’t breastfeed within the first few hours of birth due to the pains and discomfort of the surgery.
“I was too weak and the last thing on my mind was to breastfeed my baby,” she stated.
These narratives provide insights into why many Nigerian nursing mothers cannot comply with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF for early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding of infants for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for two or more years.
At a workshop on Lactation Management with Dr. Florence Folami-Adeoye for caregivers held recently, it was established that poor infant feeding practices negatively affected the growth, health, and development of children, and a major cause of mortality in infants and young children.
Folami-Adeoye, who is the president of lactation literacy in the US, said there were benefits accrued to breast-feeding the baby exclusively. She said: “It increases the Intelligent Quotient (IQ) of the baby, reduces the weight of the nursing mother, prevents breast cancer, reduces the mortality rate and also helps in bonding.”
She added that breastfeeding within one hour of birth protects the newborn from infections and reduces newborn mortality.
Folami-Adeoye underscored the need for organisations to give a minimum of six months of leave for nursing mothers. She noted that this would also make the employee give her the best in her job. “In Spain, the maternity leave is one year. This way, they can breastfeed their babies.”
She urged the government to support breastfeeding by creating policies that would favour nursing mothers and also sponsor the breastfeeding support group.
Folami-Adeoye urged all governors’ wives to enlighten women on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.
She also urged caregivers to update their knowledge on breastfeeding, “because when they are knowledgeable, they will know how to pass information to others without any problem.
Also speaking, a registered dietician nutritionist and also a breastfeeding advocate, Benice Akinola, canvassed on the need to reduce child mortality through the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding. She lamented that exclusive breastfeeding had been on 23.7 percent, saying that efforts must be made to make it reach the World Health Assembly target of 50 percent.
She identified misconceptions and poor knowledge as part of the reasons why Nigeria records a low percentage of exclusive breastfeeding.
She advised nursing mothers to “give their child breast milk, exclusively, no water, and no infant formula for six months. I tell you, the benefits are way more than you can measure. I did that for my two kids. I did exclusive breastfeeding for them. I continued till up two years and above. It is something I have done which all mothers can also do.
“The government has a huge role to play in increasing breastfeeding rates. They need to set a policy that promotes it. Nursing mothers or existing mothers need at least six months of maternity leave, this needs to be enforced. Lagos State and Kaduna State have taken that up, this will enable mothers to have enough time to rest from the stress she went through during labour, and also the time to feed her baby. The government needs to enforce six months of maternity leave for breastfeeding rates to come up.
“Of course not just for the government agencies alone but for private organisations. The government also needs to sponsor breastfeeding programmes, including lactations workshops like this. They need to make people see breastfeeding as a normal thing in public hospitals,” she said.
In her presentation, entitled: Transition to Solid Food, Mrs. Ogunbunmi Omotayo identified types of breastfeeding as exclusive, partial and token.
According to her, from six months, the baby’s energy needs increase and these could only be gotten from other foods in addition to breast milk. She said the introduction of complementary foods should not be too early or late and breastfeeding of the baby should continue on demand.
Omotayo also advised nursing mothers to breastfeed first before giving other food after the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding. She stressed that the baby in the transition period must be given adequate water for hydration.
“Baby may need time to get used to eating foods other than breast milk. Be patient and actively encourage the baby to eat, don’t force it. Give the baby its own dish so that you can tell how much is eaten.
“Hygiene should be maintained while feeding complementary foods. Wash hands properly including the baby’s hands before and after a meal and ensures that the baby’s plate, spoon, and cup are clean.
“Breast milk supplies half of the baby’s energy needs from six up to a year. Feed the baby complementary foods two-three times a day with the addition of breast milk.
She added that from nine to a year, the baby should be fed with complementary foods three to four times a day, including meals and healthy snacks.
“Try to feed your babies with a variety of food at each meal. At this age, the young child’s diet can be a four-star meal. Addition of Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables constitute the four-star meal,” she said.