By Doris Obinna
Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants.
To enable mothers to establish and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recommend that; initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life. In exclusive breastfeeding, that is the infant only receives breast milk without any additional food or drink, not even water. It involves breastfeeding on demand, that is as often as the child wants, day and night; and no use of bottles, teats or pacifiers.
Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby in some truly remarkable ways. It can lower a woman’s risk of breast cancer; provide a baby with incredible antibodies; can facilitate a wonderful bond between mum and baby.
However, a Nutritionist , Dr Chika Ndiokwelu, said that a report by the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 2013, put exclusive breastfeeding rate in Nigeria at 17 percent.
Factors responsible are: ignorance of many mothers of the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding, lack of crèche at the work place where mothers can keep their babies while at work. Belief that you can exclusively breastfeed when you are well nourished. Lack of training or periodic orientation of health workers on breastfeeding and lactation management and wrong notion by some women that their breast will sag.”
“Also, challenge of expressing breast milk and storing it, with fluctuations in electricity supply. If a mother cannot get home early enough due to work schedule, the amount of breast milk expressed may be insufficient to sustain the child before she comes back home.
“Meanwhile, the breast milk is still intact if refrigerated at the correct temperature and length of time (at room temperature-8 hours; refrigerator-24 hours; deep freezer-7days).”
Ndiokwelu said: “Breastfeed infants exhibit higher intelligence, bond with their mother better than non-breastfed, less allergy, less susceptibility to diabetes, heart diseases. Less susceptibility to respiratory tract infection and when contracted are less in severity.
With the 2016 Breastfeeding Week theme; “Breastfeeding a key to sustainable development,” an expert, Dr Gabriel Omoniaye, said it has the objective to teach us to value our wellbeing from the start of life, respect each other and care for the world we share. It aims to make breastfeeding as a key to sustainable development, because of the links between breastfeeding and nutrition, and food security; health, development and survival. achieving full educational potential and economic productivity; and environmentally sustainable methods of feeding.
“Nigeria has about 97 percent coverage rate for breastfeeding. About one third of all newborns are breastfed within one hour of delivery, and another one third are put to breast in the second hour post delivery. But the country, in 2015, had the lowest rate for exclusive breastfeeding in Africa, the figure being 17 percent. This is because, most Nigerian mothers also give water to their breastfed babies who are under 6 months of age, due to the belief that breast milk alone cannot provide enough water to meet the needs of the babies.
“A recent report by Lancent, stated that adequate breastfeeding will prevent the deaths of 800,000 babies under six months yearly and save 300 billion dollars in the United States that could have been spent on treating childhood diseases, such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and asthma in children that were not breastfed.”
While maternity laws and benefits for nursing mothers differs from one country to the other, Omoniaye said, in the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) makes a provision of mandatory 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for mothers of newborn or newly adopted children, in South Africa, maternity leave is 4 months. In Australia, there is a Parental leave of up to 18 weeks, during which either the mother or the father can take or share government paid leave. There are also services, that are largely free for new parents and babies.
“Germany has a lot of official monetary assistance to new parents, job protection and a compulsory 14 weeks of paid maternal leave, which could be extended by 4 weeks following premature delivery or multiple births.
“The Nigerian Employment Laws, make provision for 12 weeks maternity leave (6 weeks before and 6 weeks after delivery) for pregnant women who have been employed for up to one year, irrespective of their marital status. This could be extended if there are compelling medical reasons.”
“In 2014, Lagos State government increased the maternity leave of her workers to 6 months for the first 2 children and 10 days paternity leave for interested male workers whose wives had just put to bed. I support the 6 months paid maternity leave, as children will be strong enough to be left in a decent crèche after that.”
On May 21, 1981, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), came up with a breastfeeding code to checkmate the activities of the manufacturers of breast milk substitutes, so that mothers are not discouraged from breastfeeding and breast milk substitutes are used safely. The code also covers ethical considerations and regulations for the marketing of feeding bottles and teats. There have a number of subsequent resolutions to further clarify or extend certain provisions of the code.
The code addresses the mothers, health workers, health care systems and the manufacturers of breast milk substitutes.
For mothers, the code says all forms of product advertising are prohibited; mothers should not be given free product sample; promotional devices such as discount and special displays at the retail levels are prohibited; company representatives may not initiate direct or indirect contact with mothers; the health risks to infants who are artificially fed or who are not exclusively breastfed should be highlighted through appropriate labeling and warnings.
The code requires health workers to have the responsibility to encourage and protect breastfeeding; product samples can only be given at the institutional level for only professional evaluation and research and should not be passed to the mother; to avoid conflict of interest, manufacturers and distributors should not give material or financial inducements to health workers.
For health care systems, the code demands that all forms of promotion of any breast milk substitute is forbidden in a health care facility; formula feeding should only be demonstrated to those mothers who need to use it and the information given should include the risks of formula feeding and hazards of improper use of products; donated equipment should not refer to brand names of products; prohibition of free or low cost supply of products to health care facilities.
While the code tells manufacturers that labelling or information on labels for infant formula must be in simple and easy to understand terms in an appropriate language; that labels of infant formula must contain a statement on the superiority of breastfeeding and that the product should only be used after consultation with health professionals.
Also, the use of pictures or text, which may idealise the use of infant formula, such as “humanised” or “materialised,” should not be used. Nutrition and health claims on labels for breast milk substitutes should not be permitted unless allowed by national legislation; labels must contain explicit warnings on labels to inform consumers about the risks of contamination of powdered formula with pathogenic (disease causing) microorganisms; labels must conform with WHO /FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization guidelines on safe preparation, storage and handling of powdered formula.
Experts say breastfeeding is hard sometimes but It is totally worth it. It is a huge commitment. It requires a baby to have access to the mothers boobs every hour of the day, whether you need a nap or not or you are at home or not or you are in the middle of work or not, and it can be difficult to keep up with that kind of constant demand.
The woman’s schedule revolves around feeding her child, and the child is going to be hungry a lot. When a woman’s life revolves around caring for an all-consuming baby, her own needs become secondary. In order to take care of her baby, she have to take care of herself too. She has to make time to nurture her own needs.