By Ismail Sokunbi
BREAST-FEEDING is the primary source of nutrition for new born babies before they are able to eat and digest other foods. Older infants and toddlers may continue to be breastfed, either exclusively or in combination with other foods from around six months of age when solid foods may be introduced. The baby nursing from its own mother is the best common way of obtaining breast milk. Breast milk is nature’s perfect food for babies and it helps them to grow and develop healthily devoid of malnutrition.
Also breast-feeding is a process through which a mother feeds her baby with natural milk that comes from breasts. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), breastfeeding offers health benefits to mother and child even after toddlerhood.
These benefits include a 73% decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, increased intelligence, decreased likelihood of contracting middle ear infections, cold and flu, a tiny decrease in the risk of childhood onset diabetes, it has also decreased risk of asthma, eczema, dental problems, risk of obesity later in life and decreased risk of developing psychological disorders..
Exclusive breast-feeding is fundamental for optimal growth and development of babies in the first six months of life. It should be continued with additional appropriate nutritious supplementary food for up to the age of two years or beyond.
The recent Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) revealed that the national average for exclusive breastfeeding rate in Nigeria stands at 13% for babies in the first six months of life. This is poor and below the world average of over 35%.
Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that over a million children can be saved world-wide through promotion of exclusive breast-feeding. Nigeria is the largest contributor to neonatal deaths in Africa with neonatal mortality rate of 42 per 1,000 live births. The report further stated that early childhood morbidity and mortality in several sub-Saharan African countries have been unacceptably high, as a result of poor socio-economic conditions, low quality of child health service, and low level of maternal education and inadequate dietary intake.
To curtail all these challenges, exclusive breast-feeding remains the best option for infants in the first six months of life. It is natural, cost effective and evidence-based nutritional activity that promotes the optional well being and survival of infants. Exclusive breast-feeding through the breast milk which contains antibodies and essential nutrients is necessary for the promotion of health and adequate development of infants and very young children.
It has been shown that to protect infants from several illnesses in infancy and early childhood, which include acute respiratory infections, diarrhea and other gastro intestinal conditions, all we need is exclusive breast-feeding. Even researchers in a Multi -Centre Cohort Study found that non-breastfed infants have a great risk of dying young compared with their predominantly breastfed counterparts.
The practice of exclusive breast-feeding has been less than optimal in many states of the country, Ogun State inclusive. Though, in Nigeria today, the prevalence of exclusive breast-feeding has varied widely from 67% in Jos, 52% in Lagos to 37.3% in Anambra and a national average of 17% as reported in the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey of 2003 and 2013.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), only 15.1% of babies less than six months of age were exclusively breastfed, between 2008 and 2012 in Nigeria. The NDH survey 2013, however reported a slightly higher prevalence (17%) for exclusive breast-feeding even though the average duration of the practice across the country was about 15days.
Despite the existence and dissemination of the contents of the National Policy on Infant and Young Child Feeding, exclusive breast -feeding practices have remained poor in Ogun State. In order to address the ugly situation in the state, the present administration under the leadership of Senator Ibikunle Amosun has ensured that most of the child welfare clinics at various Primary Health Centres have to partly implement the action guidelines in the policy document by conducting weekly nutrition education lessons for mothers and other caregivers. This study therefore assessed the breast-feeding practices and associated factors among mothers of children less than 24 months of age in the state.
Also in recent times, the wife of Ogun State Governor, Mrs. Olufunso Amosun, with the collaborative effort of wife of the president, Hajia Aishat Buhari, presented nutritional supplements to about 700 expectant and lactating mothers in the State, as a way of promoting exclusive breast-feeding and nutritious supplementary foods towards optimal growth and development of babies.
Apart from this, Mrs. Amosun also took her time to enlighten them on the importance of imbibing the culture of eating balanced diets and taking care of their health during and after pregnancy to aid the development of their babies. She further emphasized the need for pregnant and breast-feeding mothers to stay healthy and be committed to the usage of medications prescribed for them by their doctors so as to enhance the health of their babies and themselves as well.
These giant strides of Mrs. Amosun call for collaborative efforts of all and sundry, particularly the donor partners on health and other well-meaning personalities in the state towards promoting exclusive breastfeeding and infant healthy growth in Ogun State.
•Sokunbi writes from Lagos.