Investing in the first 1,000 days of a child is key to boosting the immune system in which helps fight against childhood diseases.
It is no longer news that tackling malnutrition in children can be solved through Exclusive Breastfeeding, (EBF).
However, breast milk, known as nature’s food, remains the cornerstone of care for childhood development and the gold standard of infant feeding as it provides all the nutrients that a child needs for the first six months of life and continues to provide essential nutrients for childhood development up to two years.
Health watchers say the interest at this time is getting Nigerian women to exclusive breastfeed their babies for all round development as well as curb infant death.
Every year, August 1-7, Nigeria joins the rest of the world to commemorate the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW). It is imperative that women need all the support and encouragement to be able to exclusively breastfeed their infant to get the maximum benefit.
Looking at the Holy Bible in Lamentation 4:3-4, it states that “Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
“The tongue of the sucking child cleaves to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaks it unto them.”
This scripture verse best illustrates the benefits of breastfeeding to newborns and unfortunately, despite the role of human breast milk in child development and survival, 75 percent of Nigerian babies are not exclusively breastfed.
Commenting on the importance of breastfeeding, the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF) Nutrition Specialist, South West, Akure Office, Mrs. Ada Ezeogu, said “breastfed children have at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children. And an exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child.”
In global health, breastfeeding is one of the best investments as every $1 invested in breastfeeding generates $35 in economic returns.
Ezeogu explained that with the right policies and behavioural change of mothers and health workers, exclusive breastfeeding will soar up to 90 percent in the country.
According to her, “the 50 per cent UN target is achievable in Nigeria because if you look at the pattern you will find out that most mothers in Nigeria is breastfeeding but the problem we have is that many of them give water.
“So if we can change their orientation on how to position and attach the baby to breast, provide them with the support they need at home and get them to understand that breast milk itself has over 88 percent water even in Nigeria climate where it can be pretty hot.
“The breast contains enough water for the baby. If we can just drop the water from 0-6 months, we will indeed achieve much more than 50 per cent if not almost 90 per cent of EBF. We will then derive the benefit of breast feeding.
“Again, if 90 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfed their infants for the first six months of life, we will derive 13 per cent reduction in infant mortality.
“We need to change the norm of breastfeeding in Nigeria. EBF has the potential to save more children’s lives than any other preventive intervention.”
Lending her voice, Prof. Chinyere Ezeaka, Consultant Paediatrician and Head, Neonatology Unit, Department of Paediatrics, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, identified exclusive breastfeeding as key strategy to reducing child malnutrition.
Ezeaka, who is president, Nigeria Society of Neonatal Medicine (NISONM), also suggested that both mothers and physicians should embark on nutrition education and counselling, stressing that nutrition remains the hallmark of child survival.
She said, “once nutrition is compromised beginning from conception and lack of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, you see the child developing many problems like malnutrition.
“So, it is not just talking about malnutrition which is the curative, we must talk about prevention which is nutrition education”.
Reacting, president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Mike Ogirima, who acknowledged that child malnutrition has become a major health challenge in the country, noted that government at all levels have a role to play in eradicating the silent killer.
He said, “the government can do this by strengthening the Primary Healthcare Centres (PHC) where pregnant women can be properly educated on the importance of nutrition and availability of local food supplements such as soya bean.
“The most important way of tackling malnutrition is for the mothers to feed very well so as to practice healthy and effective baby friendly programmes such as exclusive breastfeeding because breast milk is a perfect food for children. Breast milk is a complete meal for our children.”
Ogirima frowned at some cultural practices where children are denied protein-rich foods like chicken, eggs, fish, meat and are exclusively reserved for the adults, reiterating the need for children be given food consist of all classes of food for optimal development.