Promoting optimal breastfeeding for child’s development

By Philip Yatai

Unarguably, breastfeeding of the child remains one of the best methods of ensuring a sustainable healthy population of any country.

The benefits of breastfeeding for individuals and families include ending preventable
child deaths, improving health and the development of the brain, among others.

Noticing its importance, stakeholders at different fora, have also solicited stronger breastfeeding policies and programmes to drive progress in reproductive, maternal, newborns, child and adolescent health.

According to them, improved breastfeeding practice worldwide would be a fundamental driver in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

They stress that the health benefits associated with optimal breastfeeding can save billions of dollars in healthcare cost each year by dramatically reducing hospital admissions for infectious diseases.

Medical experts also argue that breast milk is vital for the wellness of newborns from infancy to adulthood by providing all the nutrients infants and young children need to fight infection and even prevent future diseases.

Corroborating this view, a Nutrition Specialist in Kaduna State with United Nations Children’s Fund, Dr. Florence Oni, described optimal breastfeeding as one of the top interventions needed to reduce underfive mortality.

Oni said that optimal breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children under five, with 85 per cent of them infants each year, representing about 13 per cent of all under five-child death.

“This is because nearly half of all diarrhoea episodes and one-third of respiratory infections would be prevented with breastfeeding during the first six months.

“On the average, infants younger than six months, who are not breastfed, are three to four times more likely to die than those who received breast milk.

“Non-breastfed child is 14 times more likely to die from all diseases, 10 times more likely to die from diarrhea and 2.5 times more likely to die from acute respiratory infections.

“But exclusive breastfed infants have only 12 per cent of the risk of death as those who were not breastfed; therefore, early initiation of breastfeeding has significant
impact in reducing overall neo-natal mortality by 20 per cent.

“Breastfeeding is an effective, low cost way to boost human capital and stimulate
economic growth, while also giving the children equal opportunity to thrive from
the start,’’ she said.

The expert equally said that improved breastfeeding practice could save 20, 000 maternal lives annually from breast cancer that could contribute to global goal of reducing maternal mortality.

“It also decreases the prevalence of overweight and diabetes in life, as longer breastfeeding duration is associated with a 13 per cent reduction in the likelihood of obesity and 35 per cent reduction in type-2
diabetes incidence.

“It ensures that children have the foundation they need to obtain and complete quality education by providing a nutritional head-start for success,’’ she said.

According to her, feeding of children in the right way is a method of investing for
a better future because the way children are fed and cared for today determines the
quality of leaders tomorrow.

She urged mothers to initiate breastfeeding from 30 minutes of birth and to exclusively breastfeed the child for six monthsbefore  introducing complementary feeding and continue to give the baby breast milk for two years.

She also urged husbands to support their breastfeeding wives with some household
chores to reduce the burden of maintaining the home.

Further to the advice, Community Infant and Young Child Feeding project was inaugurated in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State in 2015 as a pilot scheme.

The goal of the project, according to itscoordinator, Ms Susan Adeyemi, is to deepen caregivers support for breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding for optimal growth of children in the country. “Proper feeding of young children remained crucial in ensuring children’s healthy development to adulthood, which the project sought to entrench in Nigerian communities.

“The initiative was a joint endeavour of the Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEFand USAID-funded Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition
Globally (SPRING).

“It is expected that the project would help to evaluate the effectiveness of the project’s counseling package in Nigeria towards promoting optimal breastfeeding and proper complementary feeding,’’ she said.

She described the project as a success, stressing that so far, most communities in the area had embraced breastfeeding and adopted proper complementary feeding.

She said that 68 health workers, 10 health authorities and 238 community volunteers selected from 203 communities were trained to reach out to mothers in the area.

According to her, a total of 2,400 stakeholders have also been sensitised in the area while 238 volunteers have established 335 support groups in the local  government.

Evaluating the impact of the project in the benefiting communities, the District Head of Kajuru, Alhaji Sirajo Haruna, said the project had demystified the hitherto traditional beliefs on breastfeeding. Haruna said before the intervention, no one practised exclusive breastfeeding in the community “and as a result, we are always in the hospital for all kinds of sickness.

“However, since the introduction of the initiative, we rarely visit the hospital and
our children are healthier and stronger. We are really reaping the benefit of the project.’’

He also pledged the continued support of the traditional council to the success of
the programme.

In the same vein, the District Head of Kasuwan Magani, Alhaji Gambo Yaro, a father of 38, said six of his children who were exclusively and optimally breastfed were healthier compared to the others.

Yaro said that communities under his domain had benefited immensely from the exclusive breastfeeding programme. In the light of this, Chief Field Officer, UNICEF Kaduna, Mr Uptal Moitra, said breastfeeding should be prioritised as a powerful intervention that would benefit the child and help the country to attain the SDGs.

Moitra said that as national government throughout the world develops budgets and action plans to achieve the SDGs, they should bear in mind that breastfeeding remained key.

He described breastfeeding as the cornerstone of child’s development and a foundation of a country’s development.

According to him, breastfeeding enhances productivity and contributes to breaking the vicious cycle of malnutrition, poverty and low productivity at household, community and national levels.

“Breast milk provides 100 per cent of child nutrients required at zero to six months, 50 per cent of the nutrients required at six to 12 months and one-third of the requirements between 12 and 24 months. “After six months, mothers should introduce appropriate complementary foods made from staple foods such as cereals
mixed with soya beans or groundnut and crayfish with vegetables oil fortified with
vitamin A.

“Mothers can also serve mashed potatoes or yam mashed with vegetables and fish with palm oil or oil fortified with vitamin A mashed fruits in season with each feeding starting with breastfeeding,’’ he advised. He described the media as critical stakeholder in the campaign to promote breastfeeding and therefore solicited media support on the ongoing efforts to promote breastfeeding.

“We are collaborating with wide range of stakeholders to put together a variety of actions to promote, protect and support breastfeeding and infant and young child’s feeding to ensure healthy development of children.

“As such, we need the media on board to assist us to reach out to all nook and crannies of the state and the nation at large to deepen the gains of exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding,’’ he pleaded.

All in all, stakeholders solicit improved budgetary allocations and stronger policies
to prioritise breastfeeding over alternative formula as an intervention that benefits the mother, the child and the nation.

•Culled from News Agency of Nigeria