SHOCK greeted the recent Federal Government statement that only 29 per cent of infants under age six months in Nigeria are exclusively breastfed, while only 42 per cent are breastfed within the first hour of birth. Effectively, 71 per cent of infants are denied the benefits of breastmilk in their formative years. This is worrisome and calls for a revitalisation of the national breastfeeding campaign.
The government released the figures in Abuja in commemoration of the 2023 World Breastfeeding Week with the theme, “Enable breastfeeding, making a difference for working parents,” which focuses on breastfeeding and employment.
Decades of research have determined that exclusive breastfeeding is not only all a baby needs in the first six months of life, but it is also very important for its present and future health and wellbeing. Rich in the nutrients and antibodies that infants need, it contains the right quantities of fat, sugar, water, and protein, strengthening their immune system, and protecting them against killer childhood illnesses.
Typically, however, Nigeria is falling behind in the global campaign to promote breastfeeding. Its 29 per cent coverage is well below the minimum 60 per cent recommended by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF. The sub-optimal score is partly because many nursing mothers are in the working-class group. The Federal Ministry of Health states that only nine per cent of organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy and an enabling environment for nursing mothers to breastfeed their babies. The national breastfeeding programme has faltered.
Activists speaking at WBW events –a week-long yearly global campaign to increase awareness of the health and well-being outcomes of breastfeeding on infants, young children, mothers, families, and the larger society – called for urgent government interventions to raise compliance to 80 per cent.
The FMoH said, “Breastfeeding is the right of both the mother and the child. However, for working mothers in Nigeria, balancing the demands of their careers with the desire to breastfeed can be challenging.”
It recommends early initiation of breastfeeding within an hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond, with the introduction of appropriate complementary food from six months.
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States and local governments, through their health facilities, should launch and sustain year-long advocacy and outreaches to achieve these goals.
Through realistic legislation, the federal and state governments should encourage corporate bodies and organisations to make workplaces and social gatherings conducive to breastfeeding. Presently, women employed in the Federal Civil Service are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and when they return to work, they have two hours off each day to breastfeed for another six months.
Commendably and in line with global practices, the FCS has extended this to the men, granting them 14 days of paternity leave. Under the Labour Act, mothers employed outside of the public sector are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave. They are entitled to half pay if they have worked for their employer for at least six months. But not all private organisations apply these rules. Legislation is therefore needed stipulating minimum provisions for all corporate bodies.
Researchers say breastfeeding also lowers the baby’s risk of diarrhoea, respiratory infections like pneumonia, whooping cough; ear infections, bacterial meningitis, asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and Type 2 diabetes.
Much more, the bonding between mother and baby during breastfeeding improves the emotional and social development of the child. Women who breastfed at some time in their lives are also less likely to develop heart disease or stroke, compared to women who did not, reported Science Daily.
Government at all levels should therefore revive the exclusive breastfeeding campaign and support nursing mothers to ensure the welfare of future generations.
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