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3 in 4 babies not exclusively breastfed in Nigeria

…FG plans 6-month maternity leave

By Chioma Obinna

Are the mothers angry? Have Nigerian babies offended the gods or the society? Is this the apocalypse? These were some of the posers that  advocates of exclusive breastfeeding sought answers to; Thursday, August 2, 2018, when experts revealed that less than 25 per cent of Nigerian children are breastfed exclusively in the first six months of life.

File: Breastfeeding

Not only were the statistics disturbing, the latest story of the booming breast milk substitute left many who were in Abuja at the 2018 flag-off of World Breastfeeding Week with the theme: Breastfeeding; Foundation of Life, worried.

They fear that the estimated 823,000 child deaths that would be prevented each year in low and middle-income countries like Nigeria if breastfeeding were adopted at close-to- universal levels, may be missed.

In 2013, the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey, NDHS, put the country’s exclusive breastfeeding at 17 per cent; however, a recent report, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS, put the rate at 23.7 per cent. While there is little improvement from the 2013 NDHS, stakeholders maintained that the rate was still below the global rate of 50 per cent compared to neighbouring countries like Ghana where the breastfeeding rate was as high as 52 per cent in 2016.

Also, key findings in a study carried out by the Federal Ministry of Health, Alive & Thrive and UNICEF, on the economic cost of not breastfeeding showed that Nigeria stands to lose more than US$49 billion a year due to future cognitive losses associated with suboptimal breastfeeding and that Nigerian households spend over US$438 million on breast-milk substitutes per year costing workers up to 34 per cent of their minimum wage earnings to pay for economy brand infant formula for the first two years.

According to experts, the absence of breastfeeding, however, not only affects short- and long-term health outcomes but also exacts a financial toll on the Nigerian economy.

Towards increasing breastfeeding rate in the country on this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, the Federal Government and other stakeholders are clamouring for a 100 per cent breastfeeding rate.

In his keynote address at the flag-off & High Level Policy Dialogue: Progress on Breastfeeding, organised by the Federal Ministry of Health in collaboration with Alive & Thrive, and Save the Children, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole expressed optimism that Nigeria can achieve 100 per cent exclusive breastfeeding despite its target of 50 per cent by 2020.

Adewole said there is need to increase the current rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the country stating that the ministry was planning zero stunting campaign and that malnutrition will become a thing of the past in the country soon.

Lamenting that the country’s infant and young feeding indices were still poor, he said the suboptimal breastfeeding practices prevalent in the country have resulted in unpleasant malnutrition indices of 43.6 per cent stunting, 10.8 per cent wasting, 31.5 per cent underweight and 5.5 per cent overweight among children less than five years old.

“We need to move beyond 23 per cent, it is a failure. Even the 50 per cent is unacceptable; we need to target 100 per cent.

“When you breastfeed, the chances that you will get pregnant is also reduced. So it is the first vaccine, and also the first family planning agent to help you space your births so that you don’t get pregnant the next month. Exclusive breastfeeding is also of economic value; when you invest $1 in breastfeeding, you get $35. So the return on investment is huge and much more importantly, babies that are breastfed rarely fall ill.”

Further, he disclosed that plans are underway to increase maternity leave to six months to ensure that mothers no longer have an excuse not to breastfeed.

“What has been shown clearly is that the brain, which we actually need to drive everything we do in life, is sorted out in the first two years. So, if you give the baby good food, good protein, we will have good workers and good leaders in the future.

“But if we don’t give them good food, then we will have a generation of jesters over the years and that is not what we want in this country. So, breastfeeding is a national investment in the cerebral architecture of our citizens and in the future development of our country.”

On her part, the Deputy Representative of UNICEF Nigeria, Pernille Ironside urged Nigeria to invest more in interventions that promote breastfeeding.

According to her, early initiation of breastfeeding has remained a stalemate in Nigeria with minimum improvement over the years.

“It is only 7 out of 10 children between the ages of zero to six months who are not exclusively breastfed. It is an enormous number of children who are missing out from the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.”

Ironside said a study done by the Federal Ministry of Health, Alive & Thrive and UNICEF showed that inadequate breastfeeding caused 10 million avoidable cases of childhood and diarrhea each year, at least a more than a 100,000 child deaths and this turned into 80 billion in future economic losses for the country but  the benefit is that every N1, 000 invested generates N35,000 in economic returns.

“I am speaking not just as UNICEF official, but also as a breastfeeding mother, who just returned from maternity leave and still breastfeeding her child while working. There is a running passion in this room and we need to transfer that passion into action so that we can touch every single mother in this country and women of childbearing age so that they are equipped and supported and protected to be able to breastfeed their children for a period of two years.”  It can be done and must be done. We cannot be having around 17 per cent, it is not good enough. Children deserve much more.”


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