Last week the world celebrated World Breastfeeding Week with the theme;”Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support”. It is an initiative to raise awareness on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.
In a joint statement by United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF). Executive Director,Catherin Russell and World Health Organisation (WHO) Director – General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the occasion of the World Breastfeeding Week, the global bodies noted that, as “global crises continue to threaten the health and nutrition of million of babies and children, the vital importance of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life is more critical than ever”.
The statement further notes that breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children. However, only 44 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50 percent by 2025.
Also, the Rivers State Government highlighted the need for nursing mothers to engage in exclusive breastfeeding to promote healthy baby growth. This was contained in a goodwill message delivered by the State Deputy Governor, Dr Ipalibo Banigo to mark the breastfeeding week.
The deputy governor noted that breast milk is nature’s food and ensures a baby’s health and qualify of life from childhood to adulthood.
Exclusive breast feeding of babies since birth, is known as feeding infants only from breast milk,be it directly or from breast or expressed, except drops or syrups consisting of vitamins,mineral supplements or medicine.
In a recent review reported in July, 2022 Dan Brennon, a paediatrician, lactation counsellor, who specialises in newborn care and professor of medicine, stated that exclusive breastfeeding contains anti bodies that help the baby fight off viruses and bacteria. This lowers the baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illneses and bouts of diarrhoea. They also have fewers hospitalisation and trips to the doctor.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) said exclusive breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDs (Sudden Infant Death Sydrome), lowers the risk of diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and also linked to higher Intelligence Quotent (IQ).
After breastfeeding exclusively for six months, many experts recommend that breastfeeding should continue through the baby’s first year of life.
To achieve quality breast milk for babies, recommended foods for nursing mother’s include protein foods 2 – 3 times per day such as meat, poultry, fish (e.g salmon, tuna fish, since Docasa HexanenoicAcid (DHA) is an important omega 3 fatty acid needed by babies for brain development), eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and seeds, dark green and yellow vegetables per day. At least, two servings of fuits per day. Also,whole grains such as whole wheat breads, pasta, cereal and oatmeal. Also, enough water.
The question now is, with the economic downturn in many countries and especially in Nigeria, can nursing mothers eat well to engage in exclusive breastfeeding?.
In an interview with The Tide, a Nutritionist of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, who wants to remain anonymons, stated that the first thing to do as a nursing mother is to allow the baby suck all the time to help stimulate the breast produce milk. She added that mothers have to eat well for exclusive breastfeeding to be achieved but due to the economic situation, cheaper foods can be consumed. They include rice and fish peppersoup, pap, locally made guinea corn and millet; these are all good. Nursing mothers should drink lots of warm water, consume enough beverages. We do not advise nursing mothers to take palm wine”, she noted.
In another interview with a nursing mother/midwife, Mrs Gloria Ugochukwu, who had her baby a week ago stated that, she started exclusive breastfeeding but may stop at three months due to the economic situation.
“According to her,” I exclusively breastfed my first baby for six months, that was in 2020. Then we had enough money to play around. My husband brought all the necessary food items so I fed properly. I had enough beverages, milk, pap. I ate rice with enough vegetables, meat, fish and lots of fruits like apples to help the baby. Also, palm wine for the first month which aided the breast milk to flow. Now, with this current baby, things are expensive, so we have to go for supplementary items that are less expensive like cowbell or milksy milk powder instead of peak, then cornflakes. For fruits, no way for apples, instead, I take cucumber, tigernuts, also palm wine. I also take routine medications like blood tablets and vitamins.
With this second baby, my husband and I agreed that I will breastfeed for three months and go back to work so that I can help the family by earning my full salary.
Exclusive breastfeeding was a bit scary and very difficult with my first baby but I am happy that I did it because my baby did not fall sick at all during those six months.
Also speaking with The Tide on telephone, Mrs Jennifer Peters, a nursing mother and civil servant, resident in Kaduna Metropolis said, she is strictly on exclusive breastfeeding and happy about it, though it is her first time.
According to her, “I eat very well, basically rice, vegetables, beans, enough fruits, instead of yam which is expensive. Beverages are also expensive now, I take Dano milk instead of peak milk. No matter the economic situation, I will continue exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
She added that, after four months of maternity leave, she would resume work but will take her baby to the office since there is crèche for babies.
She also added that for the three months she had exclusively breastfed her baby, apart from the routine vaccines administered to the baby at the hospital, they have not visited the hospital for any illness.
Speaking also with The Tide, the Medical Director, Laden Clinic, Rumuogba, Rivers State, Dr Onyii Ukegbu, maintained that, exclusive breastfeeding is far better than artificial milk, despite the economic situation in the country.
Dr Ukegbu advised nursing mothers to stick to exclusive breastfeeding for six months to avoid diseases that may endanger the baby’s health.
She added that nursing mothers can prepare soups with blended crayfish and “sogu” fish, which is cheap with vegetables and eba. Those in the villages are better off, she said. They can eat plantains with enough vegetables, snails and other protein foods instead of going for cowmilk.
By: Ibinabo Ogolo