The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has admonished mothers across the globe to embrace the evolving paradigm shift of breastfeeding the child and refocus on the historic opportunity to transform the method the world tackles global commitment in eliminating child malnutrion.
This admonition was given by the UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Enugu, Dr. Ibrahim Conteh, while presenting an address at a women conference organised by UNICEF in conjunction with the Ministry of Gender and Venerable Persons held on Tuesday in Owerri, the Imo State capital
According to him, the initiation of breastfeeding within the first hours of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years offer powerful line of defence against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.
“Breastfeeding also acts as babies first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illness. While there has been progress in breastfeeding rates in the last four decades with a 50% increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding globally, the COVID-19 Pademic highlights the fragility of those gains,” he said.
Dr. Conteh revealed that in Nigeria, available statistics indicate that the average duration of exclusive breastfeeding is approximately three months and only three out of every 10 children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed.
“This is an improvement from 17% in 2013 to 29% in 2018. However, this still falls significantly below the target of 50% set by the World Health Assembly to be achieved in 2025 and the SDG target for 2030,” he added.
The UNICEF boss highlighted that the percentage of children who are breastfed within one hour of birth remains less than 50%.
He submited that in Nigeria one out of eight children do not reach their 5th birthday and three out of 10 children are stunted, highlighting that optimal breastfeeding practices are known to reduce neonatal child morbilities and mortality rates as well as stunting reduction.
Dr, Conteh stated that optimal nutrition provided by breastfeeding together with nurturing and stimulation strenghtens child’s brain with positive impacts.
He emphasised that as the UN Food System Submit and Tokyo Nutrition For Growth Summit approach, governments across the world, civil society organisations and the private sector have opportunity to make smart investments and commitments to tackle the global malnutrition crisis.
“This includes protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding through stronger policies, programmes and action,” he stated.