By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Officials of the Benue State Ministry of Health have intensified exclusive breastfeeding campaigns in hospitals and health facilities as part of the renewed effort to sensitize mothers and caregivers on the importance of breastfeeding to the health of their babies in order to scale up the rate of compliance in the state.
To drive home the campaign, the officials also featured on a radio discussion in a bid to reach a larger audience including stakeholders and the communities on the importance of breastfeeding and the need to support nursing mothers to observe the practice which should be a shared responsibility to encouraged nursing mothers to adhere strictly to the practice.
These are part of the activities lined up by the Ministry to mark the 2022 World Breastfeeding Week, WBW, with the theme, “Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support.”
In the dedicated radio programme in Makurdi to commemorate the week, the team led by the State Coordinator, Baby Friendly Initiative, BFI, Mrs. Fustina Shia enjoined the people of the state to encourage every mother to ensure exclusive breastfeeding for their babies.
The discussants maintained that every baby should be feed exclusively with breast milk in its first six months of life before being introduced to other food.
According to them, “breast milk is the rich source of all the nutrients the baby needs to grow up healthy. Every child that is breastfed exclusively grows up becoming very intelligent. “And by breastfeeding the baby, the mother and child establish a bond that cannot be easily broken.
“Also children that are exclusively breastfed do not fall ill easily because the milk provides them the required immunity from all forms of ailments that are associated with infants where their mothers failed to practice exclusive breastfeeding.”
The team urged stakeholders to encourage mothers with the enabling environment that would help them practice exclusive breastfeeding because of its benefits to the health of the baby and the nursing mother as well.
Besides, the Benue State Nutrition Officer, Mrs. Regina Ijale in collaboration with the Nutrition Focal Persons in the 23 Local Government Areas, LGAs of the state have also embarked on aggressive campaigns in hospitals and clinics across the state to sensitize mothers and pregnant women on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in commemoration of the WBW.
According to Mrs. Ijale, the campaign is yielding positive results as mothers and pregnant women are giving the necessary talks on pregnancy, child delivery and everything they need to know about breastfeeding and the health of their babies.
“We are doing that in all the 23 LGAs of the state and all the Nutrition Focal Persons in the LGAs are leading the campaign in the various LGAs to ensure mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding and their babies are healthy.
“Though before now the sensitization is done on specific days in the hospitals and clinics in the various LGAs, during this celebration week we are intensifying it to further drive home the message.”
The Nutrition Officer noted that no mother would be left out in the campaign to ensure that Benue children are not denied exclusive breastfeeding because it is paramount to their all round development and critical to their total well-being.
At the FSP Clinic Daudu, in Guma LGA, the Nutrition Focal Person for the LGA, Mrs. Agnes Guma who led the advocacy team, sensitized the women, nursing mothers and pregnant women on the importance of breastfeeding. With the aid of pictorials she also cautioned them on the dangers of not practicing exclusive breastfeeding.
She noted that the first six months of the baby must not be adulterated with any fluid but they must be exclusively fed with breast milk which according to her contains everything thing the baby needs for growth and development including water and nutrients.
Mrs. Guma warned that mothers who fail to adhere to the rules of exclusive breastfeeding are deliberately and willfully endangering the lives of their babies and also denying the babies all the nutrients they require in the formative years to grow in good health.
According to her, “mothers must know that the breast milk can also be described as the first vaccine that babies take against childhood diseases because it boosts the immunity of babies and helps them live healthy.
“That is why we are moving from one health facility to the other in Guma to drum it into the ears of mothers that it is exclusive breastfeeding or nothing. And we are also appealing to the fathers, the community and stakeholders to assist mothers achieve exclusive breastfeeding because when that happens parents will not spend money that is meant to provide the needs of the family in paying hospital bills.”
Mrs. Guma who also counseled pregnant mothers on the type of food to eat during pregnancy said it was imperative to ensure that pregnant mothers eat the right food to ensure the health of the unborn child.
“We are also sensitizing pregnant and nursing mothers on the type of food they should be eating because it also goes a long way to effect the growth and health of the unborn baby.
“So the sensitization is all encompassing as regards the healthy development and growth of the child and the well-being of the mother,” she said.
A pregnant mother, who identified herself as Mngohol, commended the team for sensitizing the women and nursing mothers on the importance and health benefits of ensuring exclusive breastfeeding for children from zero to six months.
“This is my first pregnancy and when I deliver my baby I will ensure that I put what they have told us to practice. I will ensure that my baby takes only breast milk for six month. And most importantly my baby will also take the first milk from breast because they told us that it is very import for the health of the baby,” she said.
Meanwhile a Joint statement by the UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell and the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in commemoration of the World Breastfeeding Week had decried the low exclusive breastfeeding rate in Nigeria which they put at 29%.
The heads of the two global organizations in the statement noted that many babies were missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding to help them survive.
The statement read: “As global crises continue to threaten the health and nutrition of millions of babies and children, the vital importance of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life is more critical than ever.
“This World Breastfeeding Week, under its theme Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support, UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings.
“During emergencies, including those in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children. It offers a powerful line of defense against disease and all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting.
“In Nigeria, the Exclusive Breastfeeding rate is 29%, meaning that over 70% of infants in Nigeria are denied the aforementioned benefits of breast milk in their formative years.
“Only 9% of organizations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, indicating that mothers lack the enabling environment to optimally breastfeed their babies. The results are high stunting rates of 37% of children Under-5, of which 21% are severe, and wasting among children under 5 years of age (7%).
“Breastfeeding also acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses.
“Yet the emotional distress, physical exhaustion, lack of space and privacy, and poor sanitation experienced by mothers in emergency settings mean that many babies are missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding to help them survive.
“Fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death. And only 44 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50 per cent by 2025.
“Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding is more important than ever, not just for protecting our planet as the ultimate natural, sustainable, first food system, but also for the survival, growth, and development of millions of infants.
“That is why UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to step up efforts to: Prioritize investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts. Equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed. Protect caregivers and health care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings. Implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space, and support they need to breastfeed,” the statement added.