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How exclusive breastfeeding prevents child malnutrition, by UNICEF, WHO

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“Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond offers a powerful line of defence against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.”

This is the position of the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore and the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus , on the occasion of the World Breastfeeding week.

In a joint statement yesterday made available to The Guardian in Jalingo, Taraba State, they noted that breastfeeding also acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses.”

While observing that there has been progress in breastfeeding rate in the last four decades, the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemics, according to them, “highlight the fragility of those gains.”

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“In many countries “ they said the pandemic has caused significant disruption in breastfeeding support service, while increasing the risk of food security and malnutrition” stating that several countries have “reported that producers of baby food have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit covid-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding. “

Piqued that in Nigeria one in eight children do not reach their 5th birthday and three in 10 children are optimal breastfeeding practices as collectively agreed by the duo, are known to reduce neonatal and child morbidities and mortality rates as well as stunting reduction.

Stressing that optimal nutrition provided by breastfeeding along with nurturing, care, and stimulation “strengthens a child’s brain development with positive impacts that endure over a lifetime.”

Available statistics in Nigeria as lucidly stated in the release, reveal that the average duration of exclusive breastfeeding is approximately three months and only three out of every 10 children under six months of age were exclusively breastfed”

Sad that the percentage of children who were breastfed within 1 hour of birth remains less than 50 per cent, breastfeeding rates in Nigeria, as made known by them, reduces with age, 83 per cent of the children are breastfed up to one year while 28 per cent are breastfeeding till two years, adding that the proportion of children who are not breastfeeding increases with age.

With the theme “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility” the need to revisit the commitments made by prioritising breastfeeding friendly environments for mothers and babies, they believed can no longer be overemphasised.

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