Restoring The Glory Of Breast feeding

IN Nigeria and Africa as a whole, breastfeeding has been the most culturally acceptable mode of feeding babies within the first two years of life. As a practice, breastfeeding has a strong connotation for promoting the bonding that started at pregnancy between mother and child.

Breastfeeding in the Nigerian setting has always been a thing of pride.   Culture actually demands that every mother should breastfeed her child except otherwise advised. Nigerian mothers used to be well known for breastfeeding anytime and anywhere.

Some even breastfeed while working on the farms, which is why advocates of breastfeeding recommend the continuation of the practice by breastfeeding babies wherever mothers earn their living.

Breast milk serves as the best food for babies that are less than six months. Breastfeeding a child provides all the goodness of breast milk that are known to be uniquely superior and vital for optimal infant physical, emotional and mental growth. It is essential for their healthy development and all other short and long term outcomes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth.

In response to the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, the Federal Government established the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in Benin, Enugu, Maiduguri, Lagos, Jos and Port Harcourt with the aim of providing mothers and their infants a supportive environment for breastfeeding and to promote appropriate breastfeeding practices, thus helping to reduce infant morbidity and mortality rates.

It is, however, worrisome and unacceptable that Nigeria currently has one of the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in Africa.  In a National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the country stood at 13 per cent.

Despite sustained efforts, exclusive breastfeeding rates in Nigeria have fallen well below the WHO/UNICEF recommendation of 90 per cent for children less than six months in developing countries. Currently, exclusive breastfeeding rates in Nigeria compare poorly with other neighbouring countries in Africa.

As the global community marks this year’s edition of the annual World Breastfeeding Day with the theme – “Breastfeeding And Work: Let’s Make It Together”, more involvement and dedication is required to galvanise multi-dimensional support to enable women everywhere work and breast feed.

Nursing mothers in particular require more support to combine breastfeeding with work in the formal, informal and home setting. The private sector must get involved in the process of encouraging breastfeeding mothers through provision of crèches and breastfeeding rooms in work places while approving flexible work hours for mothers.

The promotion of actions by employers to become baby friendly and actively facilitate the support of employed mothers to preserve and reap the benefits of the age-long practice of breast feeding, is a task that must be done.
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