In February 2022, Mariam Udeh, 26 years old, residing in Garki, Abuja, gave birth to her first child and was in uncharted territory. As a new mother, she agreed with her husband to exclusively breastfeed their baby for six months.
“He is our firstborn, and I have heard that exclusive breastfeeding is good for the baby, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task. For us to achieve the goal, I decided to support my wife whenever she needs help caring for the baby. I support her mentally, emotionally and physically because breastfeeding can be tedious,” said 30 years old Mr Udeh Ifeanyi, a technician.
According to him, his wife and son have not been ill, and his wife does not complain of tiredness because he is always available to lend a hand.
“It would be nice if men support their wives during and after pregnancy because they need the emotional and physical stamina to encourage them to breastfeed so that we can have healthier children,” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, starting within an hour of birth.
According to WHO, exclusive breastfeeding – without any other food – for the first six months promotes sensory and cognitive development and protects babies against infectious and chronic diseases. Yet, policies that support breastfeeding are not available to most mothers worldwide.
“We teach that early and exclusive breastfeeding is good for the baby, and it needs to be supported by healthcare facilities, healthcare workers, governments and families”, said Margaret Bawa, a retired midwife with 38 years of working experience, volunteering at the Kuchingoro Primary Health Care Centre (PHC), Abuja.
She said most mothers blame lack of family or societal support as reasons why they do not exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months.
“We emphasize the importance of breast milk to mothers during ante and post-natal care and advise them to practice exclusive breastfeeding notwithstanding their health conditions after birth. But in cases where they cannot breastfeed directly, we encourage them to feed the babies with breast milk expression.
“A support system will assist a woman practice exclusive breastfeeding as it will ensure that the new mother is not struggling, feel isolated, and needs support. We also advise the men who follow their wives to ante-natal to assist their wives at home so they can have more time for breastfeeding and rest,” she said.
According to the WHO, up to 800,000 lives could be saved annually through six months of exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feeding for up to two years or longer.
However, statistics from the National Demographic and Health Survey 2018 indicate that Nigeria’s breastfeeding indices are still below optimal.
Globally, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months of age is 40%, while its 28.7% in Nigeria.
To mark the 2022 World Breastfeeding Week, a joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to step up efforts to:
- prioritize investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts;
- equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed;
- protect caregivers and healthcare workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings; and
- implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space and support they need to breastfeed.
This year’s theme, World Breastfeeding Week, under its theme Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support, seeks to involve governments, communities and individuals who can strengthen the capacity of people that have to protect, promote and support breastfeeding across different levels of society.
The one-week-long awareness days is celebrated from 01 to 07 August, as breastfeeding is key to achieving the number 2 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of improving nutrition, ensuring food security and ending hunger.