Maternal and child health experts have identified delay in early initiation of breastfeeding as a major barrier to Nigeria achieving the World Health Organisation 50 per cent exclusive breastfeeding recommendation.
The experts disclosed this on Monday at a webinar organised by the Federal Ministry of Health in collaboration with Alive & Thrive Initiative to commemorate the 2020 World Breastfeeding Week with the theme, “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”
The experts noted that breastfeeding should be initiated by new mothers within the first hour of giving birth.
In her presentation at the webinar, Director, Department of Family Health, FMOH, Dr. Salma Anaskolo, who bemoaned the current 29 per cent exclusive breastfeeding rate in the country, said Nigeria could have gone higher than the WHO 50 per cent recommendation, if not for the challenge of early initiation of breastfeeding, especially, within the first hour of birth.
She added that the cultural believe that water must be given to infants in addition to breast milk is another challenge that must be surmounted if Nigeria is to achieve the WHO’s breastfeeding target.
“Early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth has been a major challenge in Nigeria. A lot of Nigerians, one way or the other believe that they have to give their traditional concoctions.
“They strongly believe that they have to give water and so on. We currently have 29 per cent exclusive breastfeeding rate, we should aim at realising more than even the 50 per cent so that we can have leaders that are exclusively breastfed who can make smart and intelligent decisions.
“We desire to have smarter children for the next generation. We don’t have to wait for 2030 to achieve the WHO 50 per cent exclusive breastfeeding recommendation”, she said.
Dr. Anaskolo also noted that women practising exclusive breastfeeding were contributing to a healthier environment at no cost.
Speaking on the impact of climate change on exclusive breastfeeding, State Team Lead of Alive & Thrive Initiative in Lagos, Dr. Uche Ralph-Opara, said, findings from the Initiative’s Baseline Survey, showed that many Nigerians have the erroneous belief that because of hot weather, infants should be given water.
Dr. Ralph-Opara explained, “From the survey, a significant number of mothers, family members and surprisingly some healthcare workers noted that hot weather was a key reason why infants under the age of six months should receive water in addition to breast milk.
“We know very well that this actually negates the whole concept of exclusive breastfeeding because, when we say exclusive breastfeeding, it means no water in the first six months.
“We also found out that there is a very strong believe from various stakeholders including people at the community level that because we reside in the tropics, because of the heat and the dry weather, water has to be added to quench the child’s thirst.
“So, just the same way adults will feel to take water, they expect that these babies will also get thirsty because of the heat and all that and would also require water in addition to breastfeeding.
According to her, breast milk itself contains over 80 per cent of water.
“What is the point of adding additional water when 80 per cent of breast milk is already water.
The fact that you are going to be adding extra water will mean that you are tilting the child into probable malnutrition or causing all forms of diarrhoeal disease in the child.
“So, for the first six months, nature and God has made it in such a way that the breast milk is sufficient to provide adequate water and nutrients for the child”, she added.
Deputy Director, Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Directorate, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Mrs. Eva Edwards, revealed that Nigeria is one of the two regions said to be growing baby milk market globally, noting that the market was impacting negatively on the environment.
“Various types of materials go into the packaging of infant formula that comes into our Nigerian market and these materials include metal cans, plastic caps, measuring scoops and several other materials that at the end of the day, generate heaps of waste, polluting our environment.
“Some of the plastics contribute to environmental degradation and as they are non-biodegradable”, she said.
According to WHO, early and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact between mothers and infants should be facilitated and encouraged as soon as possible after birth, within the first hour after delivery.
The WHO also noted that mothers should receive practical support to enable them to initiate and establish breastfeeding and manage common breastfeeding difficulties.
Celebrated on August 1-7 every year, World Breastfeeding Week is a global campaign to raise awareness and galvanise action on themes related to breastfeeding.