Unethical marketing of breast substitutes, poor national policies, poverty, ignorance of the risks of not breastfeeding by nursing mothers are some of the factors that work against exclusive breastfeeding in Nigeria
| By Chinwe Okafor | Aug. 26, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
BUKOLA Odunze, an accounts officer, with a private firm, had decided that exclusive breastfeeding is the best option for her baby. Hence, she was going to work with her four-month old son in order to breast feed him exclusively. Then, one day, the baby developed cold, cough and catarrh as a result of the air conditioner in the office. This prompted her to stop taking him to the office and only breast feed him twice a day, morning and evening.
Besides, Odunze’s hectic work schedules forced her into this arrangement even though she had wanted to breastfeed him exclusively for six-months as her doctor had advised. “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 and the experience I passed through when he fell ill. When you know the kind of situation you are faced with, you have to find another way out,” Odunze said.
Like Odunze, Ayowunmi Bankole, 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 is just not feasible to do that for six months. It’s not that easy owing to the fact that I’m working but I would love to do it, if I don’t have a work. ‘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’, these are the words of my branch manager,” Bankole said.
To compensate for her inability to breastfeed the baby directly, Bankole 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 Odunze and Bankole, many working and nursing mothers in Nigeria are facing difficulties to practice exclusive breastfeeding for their babies.
But Ify Odiuko, a fashion designer and mother of two, does not like breastfeeding. Besides, her husband likes women with plump breast and upward looking nipples, he had once argued 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,” Odiuko said.
While the use of baby formula seems like a convenient way out, it is discouraged by health workers. For example, Sunday Obiora, a gynaecologist at Gozie Specialist Hospital, Anambra State, 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 and it saves the economy of the family. A family could spend up to N100,000 or more buying baby formula in a year. Some mothers spend between N3,000 and N6,000 or more monthly, depending on the brand of baby formula,” Obiora 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 nutrients for their benefit, as well as that of their babies because with less stress, a working mother would be able to produce more milk to nourish the baby,” the doctor said.
But it seems that 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 prompted health authorities to set targets to increase rates of exclusive breastfeeding among women to at least 50 percent by 2015 through community support groups for women and, in turn, increase child nutrition.
Despite available information on benefits of breastfeeding, only 39 percent of children worldwide, aged less than six months, were exclusively breastfed. Onyebuchi Chukwu, the 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 country was on track for initiation of breastfeeding within 30 minutes immediately after delivery and the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for six months. Training and community support groups, through community baby-friendly initiative, would also increase the country’s exclusive breastfeeding rate from the current 13 per cent to 50 per cent by 2015.”
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.
As the world celebrated breastfeeding week, an annual celebration from August 1 to 7, nutritionists and health experts encouraged women to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six-months of life and beyond, saying it would help the survival rate and increase intelligent quotient of their children within the first two years of life, even in adulthood.