How Lack Of Breastfeeding, Malnutrition Stunts Child Growth

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Holding tight to her mother’s arm like a leech on a skin, baby Abigail would not run around and make happy noise like other children. She refuses to neither say her name nor answer any friendly question, no matter the glee of cheerfulness on the faces of the ladies around; as they tried to get her attention.

This show of attitude is definitely not just part of her; it was the aftermath of a period of malnutrition and wasting from which she is still recuperating.

At age one, Baby Abigail could not do normal things every healthy child of her age would do.

She crawled but a few times, she was unable to stand let alone walk; she could not mutter words nor could she give her mother the pleasure of hearing the sweet little voice calling out her momma.

All she did was cry continuously and sit around. At one, she was definitely not enjoying life like other toddlers.

Her over thin, long hands and legs, big tummy, terse grown hair, overly white eyes that just fits in their socket including her little ribs which noticeable stands in front of her chest—all these were strong indications that she’s been severely malnourished and needed urgent health care.

Born to a teenage mother over two years ago, Abigail was rudely weaned from breast feeding, just a month after she was born.

Her mother, Aminat, Gbadamosi, had taken ill and was admitted at the hospital where she was placed on drip for almost a week.

On her mother’s return, Baby Abigail could no longer return to feeding on breast milk; nothing Aminat did that was enough to bring her back to her original food.

Abigail’s mother, sensing her breas+++t milk may be contaminated decided to wash with herbs; this did not convince the baby to return to breast milk either. Aminat therefore decided to feed her baby with any family staple food at her disposal.

She fed the barely two months old with local foods such as eko and ewedu with boiled mashed fish, semo, amala and agbo (herbal drink).

This stage of feeding was too early for baby Abigail, needless to say that she had missed the essential exclusive breast feeding including the appropriate complementary feeding –   all which are vital to the baby’s proper development and growth at such an early stage.

No wonder, the baby could not walk, talk or play at age one; all she did was to sit on same spot, cry and eat whatever her mother gave her.

“When she did not crawl at first, I thought it was just normal, I thought maybe with time, but I was very disturbed and unhappy when she clocked a year and there was no sign of proper development. Her mates were all over the places and for me as a mother, hmmm you can imagine,” Aminat said.

When baby Abigail clocked one, she fell sick as her system could no longer tolerate the carelessness. She was taken to the hospital and was diagnosed with severe malnourishment.

She was also placed on proper baby diet, luckily for her, she could be rescued because she was still within the 1000 days window of opportunity- a period between 0-2 years when malnourishment, under- nutrition, wasting and stunting could still be corrected.

The two year old baby has since bounced back after her mother Aminat acknowledged her ignorance and painstakingly followed the instruction given her by a nutritionist who attended to her at the hospital.

The young mother was provided with the feed ingredients such as powdered maize, soybeans, groundnut, salt and little palm oil; which she cooked and fed her baby with.

After being fed for eight months, Abigail is now all round, with robust cheeks, good body build and strong bones.

Unlike Baby Abigail, millions of newborns and or toddlers who were not treated on time had either died or remained stunted due to underlying causes of inadequate breastfeeding and malnutrition.

A report by the United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF), explains that while an estimated one million under five children die every year, over 50 percent of the deaths were traceable to inadequate and lack of breastfeeding cum child malnutrition.

A very vital cause pointed out by health experts was the issue of exclusive breast feeding and complementary feeding after six months.

It was noted that most mothers like baby Abigail’s are not informed on the importance of providing a balanced diet for their babies after six months of breast feeding.

Findings show that prevalent among the mothers is the force feeding of their babies with ordinary pap every now and then; pap alone cannot provide adequate nutrient needed by the child for proper growth says Mrs. Ada Ezeogu, a UNICEF Nutrition Specialist.

She urged nursing mothers to try and classify the baby’s food into their different categories and feed them properly so as to help their children against malnutrition and stunting.

Mrs Ezeogu who spoke emphatically on the importance of exclusive breast feeding and complementary feeding said, while the breast milk carries antibodies from the mother that helps the baby combat diseases, it was regrettable that about 13% of infants deaths was linked to inadequate breastfeeding due to the fact that  90% of Nigerian mothers refused to follow the practice.

Enlisting the benefits of the breast milk, she said, it does not only provide nutrients, vitamins and minerals that infants need for growth for the first six months, but also helps the babies against developing obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma and leukemia later in the future.

“Breastfed infants do better on intelligence and behaviour tests than formula-fed babies,” she added.

The Nutrition Specialist further explained that the effects of malnutrition in children, goes a long way to not only affect their learning ability when in school but may also affect the female child when she becomes a mother.

She categorically tasked mothers to pay attention to feeding of their babies especially for the first two years, adding that the child from zero to two years is still undergoing a critical stage of growth and development that requires the right nutrition.

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