By Kenechukwu Obiezu

IN life, it is always important to give children the best head startpossible. This headstart could take many forms, one of which is breastfeeding which makes for a healthy life apart from a world of other benefits.

For a country that continues to post some truly harrowing statistics on infant mortality, there is no gainsaying the fact that Nigerians can simply ill-afford to take this for granted.

 A long, love-dusted journey

For women, pregnancy is ordinarily such a delight, until it is not. To feel another life growing within, to nurse and nurture another life from its very beginning until it is ready to grace the world is no doubt indescribably exciting. However, for many women who get pregnant, the complications soon set in to sour what should ordinarily be a joyful experience.

The data tell a difficult story indeed.

 According to UNICEF, maternal mortality refers to deaths due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. From 2000 to 2017, the global maternal mortality ratio declined by 38 per cent – from 324 deaths to 201 per 100,000 live births,according to UN-interagency estimates.

The number of women and girls who died each year from complications of  pregnancy  and childbirth declined from 451,000 in 2000 to 295,000 in 2017. Still, over 800 women are dying each day from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. And for every woman who dies, approximately 20 others suffer serious injuries, infections or disabilities.

 Two regions, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, account for 86 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide. Sub- Saharan Africans suffer from the highest maternal mortality ratio – 533 maternal deaths per 100,00 live births, or 200,000 maternal deaths a year.

This is over two thirds (68 per cent) of all maternal deaths per year worldwide.South Asia follows, with a maternal mortality ratio of 163,or 57,000 maternaldeaths a year,accounting for 19 per cent of the global total.

 The lifetime risk of maternal death in high-income countries is one in 5,400, compared to 45 in low-income.The global lifetime risk of maternal death nearly halved between 2000 and 2017, from one in 100, to one in 190.

 Haemorrhage remains the leading cause of maternal mortality, accounting for over one quarter(27 per cent) of deaths. It can only be heartbreaking that in sub-Saharan Africa, a staggering number of children and their mothers continue to die during pregnancy, childbirth or within the first two months of birth.

 According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2018 NDHS), the rate of under-five mortality is 132 deaths per 1,000 live births, while the infant mortality rate is 67 deaths per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality ratio is 512 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Thus, for every 1,000 live births in Nigeria, about five women die during pregnancy, childbirth, or within two months of  childbirth.

Clearly, there is a need for continuous investment in promoting maternal and child health.

` Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and support’

The World Breastfeeding Week is an annual celebration which is held every year from August 1 to 7 in more than 120 countries. The World Breastfeeding Week 2022 with the title: `Step up for Breastfeeding:Educate and Support’ began on Monday, August 1, 2022 and ended on Sunday August 7,2022, with the aim of involving governments, communities, and individuals.The theme aims to raise awareness about sustainable breastfeeding environment.

 According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. It recommends that all babies be exclusively breastfed for six months, then gradually introduced to appropriate foods after six months while continuing to breastfeed for two years or beyond.

However, nearly two out of three infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months – a rate that has not improved in two decades.

 Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

 World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action

 The  World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, WABA, is a global  network of individuals and organisations dedicated to the protection, promotion and support of  breastfeeding worldwide based on the Innocenti Declarations, the Ten Links for Nurturing the Future and the WHO/UNICEF GLOBAL Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding. According to WABA, scaling up breastfeeding  can prevent 20,000 maternal deaths annually, 823,000 child deaths annually, and economic losses to the tune of $302 billion annually.

 Given how important breastfeeding is to  children, and to the building of a better world,  it is only prudent that environments which support breastfeeding are created everywhere. Women should be supported to breastfeed, especially exclusively for first six months of a child’s life.

In sub-Saharan Africa where maternal and infant mortality still posts scandalously high figures, it is vitally important that communities and families are supported with the necessary education to de-stigmatize breastfeeding and give children the headstart they need to live healthy lives.

 Breastfeeding is a journey and mothers and their children should be supported with everything there is to complete it.

Obiezu, a public affairs commentator, wrote via: [email protected]

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