By Doyin Ojosipe,
It was a cloudy Thursday in Enugu when some mothers with their babies trooped into the Toscana Villa Hotel.
Among the few babies presented for observation at the advocacy training ground to end malnutrition in Nigeria were Baby Darlington Okoh and Baby Lillian David who quickly caught the attention of all due to their overly active display of pleasure; yes! They are happy infants! It reflects the fact that they are full of energy and life. The two babies in their fourth and fifth months, born of different mothers have obvious round cheeks, big bright eyes, smiles that warms the heart and responded to gestures and baby cues by child lovers around them.
The Mothers Mrs Okoh Perpetua and Ifeyinwa David had ensured they fully attended antenatal care and painstakingly followed the lessons during their pregnancy. They were also careful to feed adequately and properly to care for their foetus before delivery.
“My husband ensured I had adequate provision to feed well, I had enough fruits to eat and I never played with lessons taught at antenatal, said Okoh.
“I followed my nutrition diet very seriously, I ate a lot of vegetables and fruits too,” said David.
The two women have equally placed their babies on six months exclusive breast-feeding; this has in turn affected the mood of the babies as they glow with indescribable joy.
This however is not the case with a toddler, Chika, who stood by his mother’s side all day. There appears to be something disturbing about his quiet mood, he is friendly but slow in movement and response. He is not sick as confirmed by his mother yet he never smiled at anyone.
Chika, a toddler of over three years of age only looks like a year old in height, he hardy talks and his mother said, he has impaired speech.
Chika’s mother, Chizoba did not breastfeed him for the first three days after birth because she did not lactate. When she eventually did, she fed him with only breast milk and water for a year and two months, after which she continued to feed him with only Akpu and vegetable soup (swallow food made from cassava).
According to Chizoba, Chika was not fed with complementary food after six months because he refused other food but breast milk; she also did not make effort to make him eat since she did not know the importance of such feeding.
Chika soon began to show signs of malnutrition when he took his first steps but only at two years of age and attempted to speak few months after.
No proper complementary feeding, Baby doesn’t grow
Less and or slow development has been linked to effects of malnutrition in infants in their first 1000 days which is termed window days of opportunity. It is a period in which a baby’s development is rapid with proper and adequate feeding.
According to a journal of the BioMedCenter (BMC) Paedistrics published by the US National Library Medicine, National Institute of Health, micronutrient deficiencies can occure during this period because infants have higher nutrients demands relative to increased energy requirements.
“Deficiencies of certain micronutrients such as Iron results in potentially irreversible negative effects on brain development and other detrimental psychological outcomes,” it stated
Another of its report further noted that the period of complementary feeding which is between 6-24 months of age‘can be a challenging and vulnerable time for infant nutrition’ especially due to the fact that the infant requires high metabolic processes, rapid developmental processes, and limited gastric capacity.
It states that, it is a period of crucial brain development where high caloric intake is necessary to allow for creation of channels between neurons for communication, and maintenance of established synapses, myelination (laying the myelin sheath around neuronal axons) and everyday psychological functioning.
“Key nutrients needed for infant brain development include iron which is required for oxygen provision to metabolize energy, fatty acids, for cellular membranes and myelin and protein for structural support, such as in myelin,” it added.
An Expert Henrietta Ugwu, who is the Enugu State Nutrition Officer said it is sad that a stunting child such as Chika may not recover from the damage caused by malnutrition as the toddler has grown past the 1000 window days of opportunity to be rescued.
She also added that the negative development is bound to affect the child’s performance and economic contribution to the society as well as family.
She said,“Malnutrition is something that is irreversible because what you may be seeing is the physical appearance of the child but the damage has been done in the brain, that child may not attain in terms of development, in terms of growth, in terms of every other thing, even workforce when he comes of age he may not be able to contribute excellently to the economic development of a nation as other children that were well taken care. Now you can see that even at his age, he has not started school because he is so withdrawn the apathy is already there, it’s a problem.
Another Nutrition Specialist at the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), DrBamideleOmotola also urged expectant mothers to ensure they feed adequately on proper nutrition as it affects the development of their foetuses.
He added that while it may not be physically noticeable initially, a baby’s brain gets affected right from the womb when it does not receive adequate nutrition.
“When a child is not well nourished from the womb, it may come as a low birth weight baby or as a stunted baby which most people will not know, so long as it has all the features of a baby. During such period of inadequate nuture, the brain cells are affected, the branching, which the brain cells are supposed to have, it won’t have them.
“Between when a baby is conceived to when the baby is two years old, over 90 percent of the brain is formed to adult size but because of malnutrition, because the mother did not feed on proper nutrition when pregnant, it affects the formulation of the brain cells and because the brain is the center where the baby is able to manipulate, conjuncture things, that ability will also be lost,” he added.