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Why Nigerian Women Shun Exclusive Breastfeeding



breastfeeding mother

Some women in Nigeria have expressed fear over exclusive breastfeeding for six months despite its benefits, LEADERSHIP Weekend has learnt.

A few of the women, who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend, said after six months of exclusive breastfeeding, they struggled to feed their babies with complementary food.

One of the women, Mrs Jessica Okoh, a mother of five, said when she gave birth to her first child, the nurse told her that she should breastfeed the child for six months, thereafter, add complementary food to breastfeeding.

“I did exactly that. But my problem with it was the fact that after the exclusive breastfeeding for six months, my baby refused to eat any other food aside breast milk.

“I would force her to eat and that lingered till five years, before she started eating properly. After that child, I learnt my lesson. I didn’t try it with the rest of my children.”

Likewise, Mummy Ayomide, whose child is two years old. He is still taking only breast milk with little baby food.

Narrating her ordeal, she said, “I did exclusive breastfeeding for six months and when it was time for Michael to start taking solid food, he refused. In fact, nothing solid passed through his throat. At two years, he is still taking baby milk only. I am tired of buying baby milk.”

These women are among the women from the National Demographic Health Survey that do not practice exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

The survey shows that 47 per cent of children under the age of six months, were given water, five per cent received other milk and 23 per cent were fed complementary foods in addition to breast milk.

While reiterating the need for exclusive breastfeeding for six months, as the benefits outweigh the concerns raised by mothers, the implication of not breastfeeding, according to stakeholders, is that there will be more stunted, wasting and underweight children in the country.

Public Health Nutritionist, Nutrition Division, Family Health Department, Federal Ministry of Health, Kobata Thompson, said the 2015 National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHS) shows that about 30.6 per cent of children living in North central region are stunted, 4.5 per cent are wasting and 13.6 per cent are underweight.

“In North East, about 43.5 per cent are stunted, 9.5 per cent are wasting and 25.3 are underweight. In North West, 55.9 per cent are stunted, 10.2 per cent are wasting and 31 per cent are underweight.

“In South East, about 12.3 per cent are stunted, 5.3 per cent are wasting and 9.5 per cent are underweight. In South South, about 20.0 per cent are stunted, 5.3 per cent are wasting and 12.3 per cent are underweight and in South West, 17.5 per cent are stunted, 6.2 per cent are wasting and 12.2 per cent are underweight,” she added.

Thompson said the period from birth to two years of age, is the “critical window” for the promotion of optimal growth, health and development of the child, adding that adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood is fundamental to child growth and development to full potential.

Thompson said, “After the exclusive breastfeeding for six months, the mother can start giving the baby pap with milk. When the baby is like seven months, the baby can start taking fruits like orange, banana, water melon or even blended pineapple.

“Gradually, the mother can start giving the baby little food. If the baby does not want to eat, the mother should not give up, she should continue ensuring that the child takes in the necessary nutrients to avoid being stunted, wasted and underweight.”

The nutritionist said inadequate nutritional practices begin with poor universal breastfeeding practices which drawback the child, mother, family and nation at large. She said inadequate nutritional practices can lead to 823,000 under five deaths, cost the government more than $300 billion annually and 20,000 breast cancer deaths annually.

“Over two-thirds of under-five deaths in Nigeria, which are often associated with inappropriate feeding practices, occur during the first year of life. Poor feeding practices are among the most serious obstacles to attaining and maintaining good health with children under the age of five in Nigeria.

“Complementary feeding frequently begins too early or too late, and foods are often nutritionally inadequate and unsafe,” she added.

What has Nigeria done to achieve the global nutritional targets for 2030? Thompson said Nigeria is signatory to the 2025 Decade of Nutrition targets now to deliver to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

She said Nigeria plans to reduce anemia from 67 per cent in 2013 to 40 per cent in 2025, increase exclusive breastfeeding from 17 per cent to 65 per cent by 2025, reduce stunting from 37 per cent in 2013 to 18 per cent by 2025 and wasting from 18 per cent is 2013 to 10 per cent in 2025.

“Reduce overweight prevalence of diet-related non-communicable diseases by 25 per cent in 2025 and arrest emerging increase in obesity prevalence in adolescents and adults by 2025.

“Increase minimum dietary diversity for children from six to 23 months of age who received foods from five food groups, from 10 per cent in 2013 to 40 per cent by 2025.

“Ensure antenatal iron supplementation during the current or past pregnancy within the last two years and availability of national breastfeeding counseling services for mothers of 0 to 23 months at public health/nutrition programmes and train nutrition professional density per 100,000 of population in a specified year,” she disclosed.

To attain the goals, Thompson said there is need to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continue breastfeeding up to two years or beyond and promote, timely, adequate, safe and appropriate complementary feeding with continued breastfeeding.

“Promote the micronutrient status of complementary foods of children from six to 23 months and promote the nutritional practices using the Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health plus Nutrition (RMNCAH +N) services,” she added.

She however urged all stakeholders, including mothers to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continue breastfeeding for two years or beyond for child’s survival, growth, development and improved maternal health being.

Wife of Lagos State governor, Mrs Bolanle Ambode, said the benefits of breast milk to the infant cannot be overemphasised as it is capable of determining whether the baby would live or otherwise.

Mrs Ambode said, “Nothing can compare to the breast milk. No matter the nutritional value of the baby formula, it cannot adequately take the place of breast milk in the life of the new born.

“God, who created it in His own special way to be baby-friendly, has made it the most important and most beneficial type of food a baby gets to know. Nursing mothers should not make excuses of their jobs or career for not doing exclusive breastfeeding because the advantages to the baby are too many.”