Exclusive Breastfeeding is not a new concept. It has been around for ages, since 1922 to be precise. Yet, it is being widely advocated for till date, due to its enormous benefits and the strong advocacy against global cultural practices.
Exclusive Breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk for the first six months of his or her life. No other liquids or solids are given – not even water – with the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines.
I first heard of Exclusive Breastfeeding as a young child, when my mum had my brother. I remember all the fuss whenever she informed close family and friends that she was exclusively breastfeeding. I also remember the strict warning she gave me to ensure, even behind her back, that the baby should not be given water or “foreign” food till he was six months.
Years later, as a grown woman, I found myself advocating for Exclusive Breastfeeding in my line of work. On one of those days, we were at a hospital ward and were encouraging the women on the need for it, when one of them challenged us. She questioned the rationale behind “starving her baby of water” when we all agree that water is life. She challenged us to provide evidence of someone who was exclusively breastfed, compared with another that was ‘’conventionally’’ brought up. In summary, she wanted us to compare and contrast the two.
This got me thinking. I looked at my own family. I am the first of five siblings, out of which only one was exclusively breastfed. The ‘’exclusive’’ one, in his 26 years of life, has never been admitted in the hospital for any ailment. The rest four have all had been ‘’guests’’ of different hospital for various reasons. Also, the ‘’odd one’’ is the most innovative of us, with the ability to learn independently, in his chosen field of software and graphic design.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and infant. Breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life. Breastfeeding protects against diarrhea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia. Other long-term health benefits for the mother and child include lower risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence.
Some studies have shown that breastfeeding lowers babies’ risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections and respiratory illnesses. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor. Breast feeding has also been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood.
Survey from the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey NDHS (2018), states that in Kaduna state, Early Initiation of Breastfeeding within ONE hour of birth at is 35.9%, while that of Exclusive Breastfeeding for the first six months is 27.2%. These figures are depressing and all hands must be on deck to improve the statistics.
Kaduna State Government has matched its advocacy with concrete steps to support mothers imbibe this high impact, low cost practice. Quite commendably, it is implementing the six months paid maternity leave, which was extended from the earlier three months, for working mothers in public service. This is to allow them concentrate fully on exclusive breastfeeding for the six month period. Willy-nilly, the government has extended the six months breastfeeding, by establishing creches across MDAs. This is to encourage further breastfeeding after maternity leave.
Besides, the state government, with the support of UNICEF, has established nutrition corners across 23 LGAs to provide nutrition counseling and practical demonstrations on how to adequately breastfeed, and feed infants aged six-59 months. In addition, the Kaduna Emergency Nutrition Action Plan (KADENAP) has been embarking on enlightenment campaigns in the media and Townhall meetings as well as door-to door sensitization. Likewise, healthcare workers have been trained with Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) interventions set-up across 17 LGAs of Kaduna state.
The formula for a healthy child is not in any baby formula but in the natural, high impact, low-cost, and highly effective breastfeeding. As a mother, I am reaping the benefits.