Only one in three babies born in Nigeria are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, a new study has shown.
This finding was from the National Maternity Entitlement Survey which was presented in Abuja on Tuesday.
The presentation was part of the commemoration of the 2019 World Breastfeeding week in the country. A National Zero Water campaign was also launched to sensitise mothers not to give water to babies under six months.
The World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every first week in August. The week has been set aside to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.
Speaking at the event, Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, called on leaders across all strata of government to implement policies that will support six months exclusive breastfeeding of infants in the country.
Mrs Buhari who was represented by the wife of the former governor of Nasarawa State, Mairo Al-Makura, said the launch of the campaign became necessary to emphasise the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for infants.
This, she said is expected to change the narrative of nutrition in the country.
Currently, Nigeria has a high prevalence of malnutrition among children under the age of five and ranks second globally on stunted children.
Mrs Buhari said in spite of the health, economic and developmental significance of exclusive breastfeeding; many mothers are not keeping up to the task.
“I have no doubt that everybody is aware of the importance of breastfeeding and it is really worrisome that children do not benefit so much from it. Breastfeeding is the right of every newborn and the government of Nigeria recommends that initiation of breastfeeding should begin immediately after childbirth.
“The first Breastmilk, which is colostrum, is highly nutritious and it contains antibodies that protect the newborn from diseases. Late initiation of breastfeeding is one major reason for the introduction of prelacteal feeds which are potentially harmful to the newborn,” she said.
The 2018 National Nutrition Health Survey (NNHS) shows that Nigeria is lagging far behind on exclusive breastfeeding.
Available data shows that only 27 per cent of children are exclusively breastfed. It was also noted that one of the major challenges of exclusive breastfeeding in the country is that children are given water before they are six months old.
Speaking in a similar vein as Mrs Buhari, UNICEF deputy country representative, Pernile Ironside, said exclusive breastfeeding is the best health intervention for children under six months.
She said it is time to inspire and educate people all year round on the importance of breastfeeding exclusively for six months and complimentarily for two years.
She tasked the government to amend its policies on maternity and paternity leave to help parents to perform the task.
“Although good progress is being made in some places across the country, there is still a need for more effort in implementing family-friendly policies. Also, giving water to a baby in their first six month is unnecessary and it jeopardizes the health of the children,” she said.
Mrs Ironside explained that the reason why mothers do not need to give their babies water is because 80 per cent of breast milk comprises water while the others are the nutrients the baby needs.
Mrs Ironside also called on the government to revise the policies of marketing breast milk supplementary food. She said this will go a long way in encouraging women to breastfeed their babies.
Also speaking on the merit of exclusive breastfeeding, the director. department of family health, ministry of health, Adebimpe Adebiyi, said children who are exclusively breastfed are less likely to fall ill.
Mrs Adebiyi said this will also reduce the burden on the health system and cost of hospitalization on the family.
She said breastfeeding is known to be the single most cost-effective high impact method of feeding infants and young children because breastmilk provides adequate nutrients from the first day of birth up to two years.
“However, in Nigeria today, the exclusive breastfeeding rate remains one of the lowest in the world,” she said.
According to the 2018 NNHS, only about one in three of our children are exclusively breastfed, hence the National Zero Water Campaign was developed to address the low rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the country.
“Globally, more than 800,000 children die annually because they are not properly breastfed. In Nigeria, non-breastfeeding comes with a huge cost and we cannot continue to lose our children when we can prevent such deaths using a simple cost-effective method of mothers exclusively breastfeeding their children in the first six months of life,” she said.