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Re: Breast-feeding and human rights

By Helen Ovbiagele, Woman Editor
I was pleasantly surprised that most of the  readers who communicated with us,  supported my view on the above write-up.

I had expected mails, criticizing my stand that while breast milk is cheap, convenient, and the most healthy for baby, women who are unable to breast-feed their babies, for whatever reason,  should not be harassed and labelled uncaring and ‘failed’ mothers.

However, there was a male reader who assumed that my palm had been greased by the manufacturers of baby formula, to promote their products and send down breast-feeding.

I told him that if he understood my article, he would see that I’m pro-breast-feeding, even though experts are now saying that infant formula is not inferior to breast milk.  My point is that new mothers should be encouraged to breast-feed their babies, and told the benefits of doing so.

But  it is a violation of a woman’s rights if she is harassed and abused for failing to breast-feed her baby.  The reader was decent enough to text back to say he didn’t mean any insult, and that he now understands more about breast-feeding.

Various women I spoke to on the issue told me that in our country, mothers, particularly new ones, have always made a show of breast-feeding their babies, well before UN’s breast-feeding day was declared.  The attitude was like, ‘I’ve arrived.  Lucky me!’

“This is not because they’re necessarily aware of the benefits, but because they want to show off  the power of motherhood,” explained an ‘auntie’ who’s a retired hospital matron. “This sight is  particularly painful to women who are still waiting on God for babies.  Many new mothers worry about not being able to feed their babies right away.

They just couldn’t wait to take up their infants in their arms and put them to their breasts.  In the rural areas there are experts with  herbs with which to wash the nipples so that the milk could start flowing early.

Helen, you are right. We don’t need to urge our women to breast-feed their babies; not even the highly educated ones.  They do it naturally.  Those who work, express their milk and store them in bottles in the fridge for their nannies to warm up and use in their absence.

When only a few families could afford to buy a refrigerator, nursing mothers used to race home during break to breast-feed their babies.  Lagos wasn’t congested with vehicles then, so, this was easy.”
“So, you don’t think, auntie, that the practice is in danger of dying out?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t think so.  Still, it’s good that the United Nations has declared a day for it, as we don’t know how the future generation would regard the act.  The world keeps changing.  However, more important than whether a baby is breast-fed or not, is good parenting.  This seems to be declining everywhere these days.

Some parents are not alive to their responsibility of monitoring the movements of their wards and being close to them.  Some provide financial support but can’t spend quality time with them.   Increased street crimes is not due to children not being breast-fed.  Yes, let’s focus more on good parenting.  That’s my view.”

Here are the views of some readers:

“Helen, I congratulate you for having the courage to put out that article on breast-feeding.  I hope you’ve not received too much flak on this.  I too read the piece ‘MOTHER’S MILK NOT BETTER THAN BABY FORMULA’ in THE NEWS magazine, which was part of a research by a Norwegian team.

I wasn’t surprised by the finding because I have been in a position to compare breast-fed babies with fully bottle-fed babies around me, and I didn’t notice any difference in the health or character development of the children.

Most, if not all, mothers want to breast-feed their babies, but sadly, not all can.   I’m sure the health personnel in all those ‘baby-friendly’ hospitals know this.  The mystery is why they feel they must harass mothers about breast-feeding their babies.  I agree it’s a violation of their human rights.  They should play advisory roles.  That’s all.  Thanks.  – Sister Vera, Lagos.’

“Breast milk is the best for the child; there’s no doubt about this.  That’s how God decreed it for both human beings and animals.  A mother should naturally want to breast-feed her baby.  Any contrary feeling to this is of the devil.

However, I’ve had to console a few young mothers around me who felt bad that they were not able to breast-feed their babies for long, as the milk just stopped flowing in spite of the numerous bowls of pap that they were advised to take to get the milk flowing.   This feeling was affecting them psychologically and they felt they had failed their babies.

Any slight fever the babies had, would be attributed to the limited number of months they breast-fed their babies.  We prayed fervently for a reversal, but nothing happened.   I was baffled, so, I accompanied one of them to a medical doctor; a female.  The doctor was amused and she explained that body types differ in many ways.

The tenure of the flow of milk has nothing to do with the size of a woman’s bosom, as a heavy bosom may produce less milk than a moderate or even a small one.  She said experts have not been able to give a solid reason yet.  She added that her own milk normally dries up  six weeks after childbirth, and her babies are not the worse off for it.    Thanks, Deaconess Sarah, Ibadan.’

Is it lack of breast-milk that
turned people into hooligans, thugs, and criminals?  Is it a lack of it that is responsible for children not doing well at their studies?

Is it a lack of it that makes children have a bad character?  Are we saying that the parents of those who have turned a terror to the nation had money for infant formula?

Weren’t all of them  raised on their mother’s milk?  I rest my case.  Breast-feeding?  Good!  No breast-feeding?  Good too.  Let’s turn our attention to raising good citizens by example.   Pa T.M. O,   Kaduna.’
“In my childhood, I used to watch in amazement as mothers used mother’s milk for some ailments in their babies.

If a baby had discharge in the eyes, mother’s milk would be dropped in those eyes.  If a baby had constipation, the mother would take a lot of citrus fruits and soft pawpaw, breast-feed the baby and he would have bowel movement within a short time.  Then, breast milk greatly influenced the health of the baby.  I believe it may still be so today.  However, a cousin whose mother passed on at child-birth was raised on  infant formula, and he enjoys excellent health till date.

What I noticed was that the aunt who raised him, gave him extra and special attention right from babyhood.  Today, he’s a successful professional, and a loving husband and father.   I think our input in raising our kids is what determines the sort of person they will be; with the help of God, of course. – Pade, Akure.’

“I support breast-feeding 100%, but please let’s be decent about it and do it privately.  I’m female and yet to marry, but I get embarrassed each time I see a nursing mother whip out her breast to breast-feed her infant in public places.  The decent thing is to find a corner in which to do it.

In the western world, it is considered indecent act for a woman to bring out her breast in public, as the sight could encourage women-molesters.”


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