Challenges of Exclusive Breastfeeding

A woman breastfeeding her baby in the clinic

Many working class nursing mothers would have loved to exclusively breastfeed their babies for up to six months but find it extremely difficult to do at the risk of their jobs while others prefer to keep their breasts standing to please their husbands

By Chinwe Okafor  |  Jun. 2, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

GINIKA Enem, is a nursing mother who works as a sales representative in a private company in Lagos. During her ante-natal clinic sessions, she was made to understand that a six-month exclusive breastfeeding is what the World Health Organisation, WHO, has recommended as the best option for babies. So, she decided to key into it for her baby. Hence, she was always going to work with her four-month old son in order to breast feed him exclusively for six months.

But the stress which came with her official work schedule was too much for her. Consequently, she couldn’t take proper care of the baby since it was difficult to carry him along during outdoor assignments. The lack of proper care, coupled with the not-too-good environment in which she operated, made the child to be always sick. This prompted her to stop taking him to the office and only breast feed him twice a day that is, in the morning before she left for office and in the evening when returned.

Enem told Realnews that though she wanted to breastfeed her baby exclusively as advised by her doctors but her hectic work schedule prevented her from practicing it. “I breast feed him in the morning before I leave home and at night when I return from work. I also make sure he is exclusively breast fed during the weekends. I would have loved to do it all the time, but I can’t because of my work. When you know the kind of situation you are faced with, you have to find another way out,” she said.

A woman breastfeeding her baby while the doctor watches
A woman breastfeeding her baby while the doctor watches

Like Enem, Ekene Ajayi, a banker, would like to breastfeed her baby exclusively for six-months but returning to work after three months of statutory maternity leave is her only challenge. “I exclusively breastfed my baby for two months instead of six because it was just not feasible to do that. It’s not that easy owing to the fact that I’m working but I would have loved to do it, if I were not a full-time worker. Besides, my branch manager had warned not to combine breast feeding with official duty. He told me bluntly: Our workplaces are strictly for business, not for nursing mothers. If you still need your job, you know how best to take care of the baby and your work.”

Ajayi said she initially started expelling breast milk into a feeding bottle for the baby, but the milk easily got sour whenever it was not stored under the right temperature. Hence, she had to stop exclusive breastfeeding for her baby at two months and started using infant formula to complement the breast milk. Just like Enem and Ajayi, many working and nursing mothers in Nigeria are facing difficulties in trying to practice exclusive breastfeeding for their babies.

In spite of the apparent difficulties, expectant mothers are advised during antenatal clinic sessions at Isolo general hospital on Tuesdays  how advantageous it is to practice exclusive breastfeeding for their babies in the first six months of their lives. But some of the mothers who already have children have declined to buy into this practice. Kelechi Ifeanyi, a business woman and mother of two, does not like breastfeeding. Besides, her husband likes women with plump breasts and upward looking nipples and always argues  that a woman’s breast belongs to her husband and not the baby.

“My husband wants me to always look attractive, else he might leave me for another woman and I’m working hard at it. More so, I have seen a lot of women whose breasts now look like slippers due to breastfeeding; it comes with aging and men don’t like old women. Child-bearing generally makes a woman age faster, but the earlier one stops breastfeeding and resorts to baby formula, the better in my opinion,” Ifeanyi said.

She is not alone in this belief. Bridget Samuels, a fashion designer, said that too much of breastfeeding flattens the breasts.  According to her, breast milk is not the only food that should be given to a child. She argued that baby formula or water should also be given to babies because she doesn’t value the idea of human being not taking water for the first six months of his or her life. She argued, however, that even though  her children were not exclusively breast fed, none of them is infected with any killer disease.

To most women like Samuels, the use of baby formula seems to be  a convenient way out but it is discouraged by health workers. For example, Sunday Ajibade, a gynaecologist in Lagos, said that exclusive breast feeding is essential for a baby’s growth and also good for the baby’s brain development, especially in the second year. “Breast milk is a natural source of food for the baby and it is important for the baby’s growth and development because it contains cells and antibodies that prevent infections.


“Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, is the perfect food for the new-born, and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth. Breastfeeding is beneficial because it helps the mother and her baby to bond well; it also helps the mother to lose excess weight gained during pregnancy as well as saves the economy of the family,” Ajibade said. According to him, in some developed countries, mothers are being encouraged to exclusively breast feed their babies by giving them extended holidays.

They are now given six months instead of the normal three months, and in some places, they also give the husband leave period so that he can help the wife with house chores during the period. “That’s why we encourage mothers to have proper relaxation and rest and take adequate care of their babies because with less stress, a working mother would be able to produce more milk to nourish the baby,” the doctor said.

A lot of Nigerian mothers are yet to embrace exclusive breastfeeding. A recent survey by the federal ministry of health showed that 13.1 percent of Nigerian children within the first six months of life were exclusively breastfed while early initiation of complementary feeding before the age of six-months was put at 76.1 percent. The National Demographic Health Survey agrees with the ministry’s findings which showed that only 13 in 100 mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first few months of life. The findings also showed that four out of five babies were not exclusively breastfed within the first hours of their lives, a decline from 17 percent to 13 percent in 2008.

This has prompted health authorities to set targets to increase rates of exclusive breastfeeding among women to at least 50 percent by 2015 and, in turn, increase child nutrition through community support groups for women. Despite available information on the benefits of breastfeeding, only 39 percent of children worldwide, aged less than six months, were exclusively breastfed. Onyebuchi Chukwu,  minister of health, has also expressed concern over the sharp decline in breastfeeding few weeks after delivery. He said: “Breastfeeding is the best way to provide newborns with essential nutrients which they need as it is a window of children’s survival, optimal growth and development into adolescent and adulthood.”

The United Nations Children’s Funds, UNICEF, has also expressed worries over the continued decline of exclusive breastfeeding among Nigerian women. It blamed the situation on roadblocks to improving breastfeeding rates and unethical marketing by makers of breast milk substitutes, poor national policies that do not support maternity leave, and a lack of understanding of the risks of not breastfeeding. The organisation said that if breastfeeding was promoted more effectively and women were protected from aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes, more children would survive and thrive, while lower rates of disease, malnutrition and stunting would be recorded.

Eric Bishen, UNICEF’s communication specialist, said that less than half of the children under six months were benefitting from exclusive breast feeding and that a strong leadership in promoting the practice was essential. According to Bishen, there is no other single health intervention that has a high impact for babies and mothers as breastfeeding. “Breastfeeding is a baby’s first immunisation and the most effective and inexpensive life-saver; children, who are exclusively breastfed, are 14 times more likely to survive the first six months of life than non-breastfed children. Starting breastfeeding on the first day after birth, can reduce the risk of new-born deaths by 45 percent and that breastfeeding also supports a child’s ability to learn and help prevent obesity and chronic diseases later in life,” he said.

Bishen, also said that apart from the benefits to the baby, mothers who breastfeed exclusively, are less likely to become pregnant in the first six months following delivery. He said breastfeeding helps mothers to recover faster from giving birth and return to their pre-pregnancy weight, adding that they would also experience less post-partum depression and also have a lower risk of ovarian and breast cancers later in life.

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  1. I have learned alot on breastfeeding and have gained knowledge in that am doing my research on constrains to exclusive breastfeeding .thanks alot.

  2. WHO / UNICEF should intervene and insist that the duration for maternity leave in Nigeria should be for six months in order to encourage exclusive breast feeding in Nigeria.

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