Mothers Tackle Child Malnutrition With Exclusive Breastfeeding
By Chioma Umeha
One can easily tell the source of happiness of Igbe Assumpta, a 26-year-old mother seeing her bond with her baby as she cuddled him. The Enugu state-born nursing mother and student believes that exclusive breastfeeding provides every nutritional value her child needs for proper growth.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) explains, “Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk. No other liquids or solids are given – not even water – with the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines.”
In an interview with INDEPENDENT, Assumpta said, “Exclusive breastfeeding boosts my baby’s intelligent quotient, as she is very sharp. Even my friends who are not doing exclusive breastfeeding used to tell me that my baby is very sharp. My baby is strong and healthy.
“Since I gave birth to her, I haven’t taken her to the hospital. It saves me money. My baby is five months and two weeks and I will complete the six months exercise. I will still practise it for my next baby. I also advise other women to go for exclusive breastfeeding.”
To achieve optimal growth, development and health, WHO recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.
Chinedu Chukwuma, also from Agwu in Enugu State, told the same success story like Assumpta. The healthy look of her two children tells it all. You could also see the bond between Chinedu and her three-month-old baby, Ebelechukwu, as she cuddles her, all thanks to exclusive breastfeeding. The practice is not new to her. The 20-year-old mother who is indulging in the exercise the second time, outlined the benefits.
Chinedu told INDEPENDENT during an investigative visit to Enugu that she came to know about exclusive breastfeeding while attending antenatal classes for her first baby. “We were told that it is a very good practice. I did it for my first baby for six months. So I did not need any persuasion to adopt it for Eberechukwu, my second child; I am doing it for him.
“My babies are hardly sick. Apart from immunisation, I had no reason to be shuttling between hospital and home unlike some mothers,” she said.
The Federal Government integrated education on exclusive breastfeeding into the antenatal programmes at the Primary Health Care(PHC) Centres for nursing mothers to be taught about its benefit.
Only recently Federal Government pledged its commitment towards supporting breastfeeding and improving funding to scale-up nutrition and breastfeeding practices across the country.
Mrs. Aisha Muhammadu Buhari, wife of the President, disclosed this in Abuja, during the last year’s launch of Lancet Series on Breastfeeding and High – level Policy Dialogue on Promoting Breastfeeding for National Development in Nigeria.
Ngozi Onuora, a Nutritionist at UNICEF at the Port Harcourt office of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria, addressing journalists recently at a media training on child nutrition, stressed that exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality.
This is due to the protection it gives the baby against common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, and helps for quicker recovery during illness, Onuora explained.
She said: “Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival, health and development. According to her, well-nourished children are better able to grow, learn, participate in and contribute to their communities. It also makes them resilient in the face of disease, disaster and other crisis.”
As for Celestina Nwankwo, a 35-year-old farmer and mother of six children, one can see the difference between her children who were exclusively breastfed and those who were not.
She told INDEPENDENT, “I have done it for two of my children and I saw the difference. They don’t fall ill often; they do not go to toilet anyhow. My advice to mothers is that they should try and adopt exclusive breastfeeding because it is very good.
“I did not do exclusive breastfeeding for all my children. There is a big difference between those who benefitted from it and others who did not. The ones that were exclusively breastfed are very intelligent and are closer to me,” Celestina said.
The 35-year-old farmer said she was taught about the exercise in the Health Centre during antenatal.
Dr. Chris Osa Isokpunwu of the Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja, while corroborating earlier views, told journalists during a two-day Media Dialogue on Leveraging Resources for Child Malnutrition in Nigeria that exclusive breastfeeding for six months prevents childhood illnesses like diarrhoea, infection
He said that exclusive breastfeeding prevents childhood obesity and the associated non- communicable diseases in adulthood, adding that the mother only needs to be adequately fed on normal family diet.
Isokpunwu revealed that “it is cheaper when compared to what is spent on baby formula, hospital bills, energy cost of boiling water and sterilisation of bottles, cups and spoons, and above all, the consequences of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases later in life.”
With Nigeria currently recording a huge number of malnourished children, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) might just be affected years from now as malnutrition accounts for low Intelligent Quotient (IQ) of an individual.
The basic drivers of child malnutrition are poverty, failure in governance, institutional weaknesses, gender issues; the underlying causes are food insecurity, inadequate care, access to health care services, while the immediate causes of malnutrition are; inappropriate food intake and diseases.
To curb the ugly menace – child malnutrition, the world health body recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants for six. The United Nations (UN) body noting that breast milk contains all the nutritional value a child needs for proper growth, further recommends continuous breastfeeding and adequate complementary foods until 24 months.