August 1-7 is the week dedicated to celebrating the world breastfeeding week. On the first, I was at Amuwo Odofin Maternal and Child Centre to celebrate the mothers and staff and I had a great time. I was asked to speak about the theme of the celebration which is “Sustaining Breastfeeding together”. It was great to be at such a facility that was clean, beautiful and dedicated to mothers and their children. The environment was quite conducive and it was obvious that the mothers were not in a hurry to run away. This was a different picture from an experience I had last year where I saw bed bugs on the table cloth used to cover a high table at a similar event. We were there to talk about breastfeeding also and when you talk about food, you must remind mothers about hygiene. It was, therefore, appalling that bed bugs were scurrying about the hospital. Amuwo Odofin is a new facility however and I hope that the standard can be maintained.
To maintain a standard is certainly not easy; there must be deliberate effort to make things work. this is the same with breastfeeding. Breast milk is the gold standard of foods for infants 0-6 months. It is served as it is; not hot or cold; but with just the effort of the mother bringing the infant to meet the breast. It is also cheap and effective for nourishing an infant. It protects against infections and the first liquid – the colostrum – is often called the first immunization. Breastfeeding could save about 800,000 lives (children) and 20,000 mothers according to the Lancet. The evidence for Breastfeeding exclusively is clear and solid.
It is quite sad that despite all the evidence in support of breastfeeding, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding is low (17%) in Nigeria. Since we know of the goodness of the breast milk and the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, how come mothers in Nigeria are not complying? It is said that if mothers abstain from given water to the infants who are breastfed (0-6 months), the rate of exclusive breastfeeding will go up. Do you think babies need extra water? Breast milk is 80% water, remember? the rest of the 20% is a combination of powerful nutrients needed for growth and development. Even in hot weathers, the breast milk is enough for an infant below 6 months. In many cases, giving water to children under 6 months leads to infection and/or malnutrition. Remember that access to clean water is not a reality for many families in Nigeria. Also, the capacity of infant’s stomach is small yet growth at that stage is fast, so they need enough nutrients frequently; which the breast can produce and extra water is giving at the expense of the needed nutrients.
Clearly, there are issues with breastfeeding exclusively in Nigeria but these challenges can be overcome with the right support. We can make breastfeeding a standard for our babies if we work together to support it.
For mothers who truly want to exclusively breastfeed their babies and those who have done so successfully, kudos to you. For mothers who are undecided, it is your right to choose what is best for you and your baby. Hopefully, you would do right by your baby; no pressure. For fathers, siblings, in-laws, employers, business people, investors, please support breastfeeding by supporting women who live with you, around you, work for you or buy your products. Sustaining breastfeeding is for the common good of everyone.