34% Of Nigerian Mothers Exclusively Breastfeed Children – UNICEF

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UNICEFThe United Nations Children and Education Fund, UNICEF says 34% of Nigerian mothers exclusively breastfeed their children within the first six months of birth.

The UNICEF Representative in Nigeria,  Dr. Nemat Hajeebhou disclosed this on Tuesday at the commemoration of the 2023 World Breastfeeding Week held in Abuja.

He said Nigeria about 90% of mothers in Nigeria breastfeed their children but of this number, only 34% exclusively breastfeed their babies within the first six months of their birth as of 2022. This, she said represents an improvement when compared to 19% and 29%, the figure recorded in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

To sustain the feat, Hajeebhou called for collective effort and more support to mothers at home and workplace to enable them to observe 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding for optimal growth of their children, benefit of home, workplace, and the nation.

‘‘We have over 90% of mothers in Nigeria breastfeed, that is absolutely amazing. But we want mothers and babies to be optimally breastfed. This means children need to be breastfed in the first hour of their birth, giving only breast milk, no water and nothing else. And from six months onwards, they continue to breastfeed for 24 months, while diverse food is added to the diet.’’

‘‘We have seen improvement in the exclusive rate, it has gone from 19% in 2020 to 29%  in 2021 to 34% last year. That is amazing and needs to be encouraged. What we need to do more is to help mothers feed their babies within the first 6 months, and support them. Helping mothers to feed well and make sure they have time to breastfeed their kids.’’

For employers, she said they need to provide 6 months of maternity leave so that mothers can feed their babies and nourish them so that they can recover from pregnancy and childbearing.

‘‘In the community, this should be spread that all children need exclusive breastfeeding, it is their right of the child to have good nutrition and breast milk, it is a big part of what the child needs’’.

The Special Guest at the occasion and Chairperson of the Governors’ Wives Forum, Amb. Olufolake Abdulrasak said the Kwara State government is working to improve mother and infant nutrition in the state.

According to her, the state recently recorded a reduction in the prevalence of malaria to 20% which is lower than the national average of 26%.

She explained that the feat was achieved through the commitment of the state government which distributed over 2 million malaria-treated nets in the state, gave out insecticides, and also enlightened the people on proper practices to make sure they avoid malaria bites such as avoiding stagnant, making sure they don’t wear overpowering deodorants and perfumes and making sure children wear long sleeve dresses, among other healthy practices.

In terms of legislation, The Kwara First Lady said, ‘‘Regarding breastfeeding and six months maternity leave, when the Governor was being sworn in, the second time, that was the day he announced that Kwara State had adopted 6 months in terms of maternity leave for mothers. We are currently working on ensuring  paternity leave for fathers.’’

In her presentation, the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health, represented by Dr. Boladae Alonge, said that the Federal government is doing a lot to improve mother and child nutrition in the country.

According to her, the government has provided grants and loan schemes for the state governments to access them and compete in the improvement of nutrition and breastfeeding in Nigeria.

‘‘We know that Nigeria is second to last in malnutrition. So, the best we could do is to make use of the best resources God has provided us through nature. Nigerians must breastfeed their children in the first hour of life, without water. It will save money, help families spend less in the hospitals and help in economic growth.

‘‘Government is doing a lot, we have grants and we are taking loans in the last three years and we are extending the loan period to make sure it gets to all. It is more expensive to buy formulas, that is why we are starting with prevention, we want you to continue with homegrown feeds.

‘‘That is why we are supporting children, and adolescents with nutrition supplements to make sure there is supportive nutrition all over Nigeria. The National Council on Nutrition has gone out to establish a nutrition department in various MDAs so that there would not be a budgeting challenge for nutrition in Nigeria.

‘‘What we are doing is to improve advocacy so that it can be replicated in all the states since health is not on the exclusive list. We know that workplaces are very tasking,  including the private sector. We need to be encouraged and support working mothers to breastfeed their children’’.

She called on employers and workers to support breastfeeding by providing breastfeeding rooms for mothers.

Country Director of Nutrition International, Dr. Osita Okonkwo, said they distributed over 20 million doses of Vitamin A last year and are preparing to top it with 22 million doses this year, which are distributed within the maternal and child health week, which happens twice in a year.

According to him, about 30 states have keyed into the project through Maternal and child health week.

‘‘At NI, we focus on providing support to micronutrient availability  for children under 5, and in Nigeria, we support the supply and distribution of Vitamin A for under 5 children across the country, working with our partners and  government and other partners.’’

On other areas of focus, he said, ‘‘We have made an effort to inaugurate a media team and trained the media to be more sensitive and we are integrating media in what we do in ensuring adequate information is shared to the public on how we intervene on malnutrition in the country. With this, the media are getting more involved in what we do’’.

In her Goodwill message, the Head of the Infants and Child Feeding Branch, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Temidayo Odebunmi, said this year’s theme was chosen because globally, over 50% of the workforce are women, and need to breastfeed their babies.

She stated that the importance of breastfeeding for children cannot be overemphasized, hence the need for working women to be encouraged.

On the benefits of breastfeeding, Odewunmi, also offers long-term benefits such as high IQ to children, higher performance in school, benefits for mothers, reduce risk of ovarian and breast cancers, contributes to the reduction of post-partum hemorrhage, delays pregnancy, reduce cost of buying baby food, hospitals visit, cost of water and above all she said the nation will benefit as the economy get stronger, adding that ‘‘when you breastfeed children you are preparing strong workforce for the future’’.

On her part, Maternal Infants and Young Child Advisor to USAID, Pauline Ada said the organization has multiple projects in Nigeria that attend to malnutrition issues in Nigeria.

‘‘We have an integrated project that focuses on nutrition and health, ensuring that all essential hospital facilities are up to standards, they need project locations and also ensure improved routine immunization and vaccination for children, especially children from 0-5 years.

‘‘It also improves nutrition via attitude towards dietary diversity and timely identification of malnourished children and making referrals. Also, we are supporting national and state levels, building capacities for government agencies to reduce malnutrition. We are equally embarking on advocacy to educate caregivers to continue to embrace exclusive breastfeeding and optimal breastfeeding’’.

World breastfeeding week is celebrated globally in over 120 countries, organized by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.

The theme of this year’s celebration is: Enabling Breastfeeding: Making a Difference for Working Parents.



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