20,000 Nigerian women lost to poor breastfeeding annually – Minister

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, has said that 20,000 women die every year in Nigeria as a result of poor breastfeeding.

Speaking at a media conference held in Abuja Tuesday to commemorate the 2020 Breastfeeding Week with the theme: “Support Breastfeeding for a healthier planet”, the minister emphasised the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for children.

A statement on the ministry’s website said the minister expressed federal government’s concern that an estimated 20,000 women die annually due to poor breastfeeding.

 The minister was quoted as saying that the benefit of breastfeeding to both mother and baby had been well documented, including giving babies stronger immunity and reducing the risk of suffering many childhood illnesses and infections.

“It is also associated with longer-term health benefits including reduced risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence. Studies have shown that obesity rates are 15-30 percent lower in breastfed babies compared to formula-fed babies.

 “The World Health Organization (WHO), in a series of Lancet publications on breastfeeding, reports that scaling up breastfeeding practices to almost universal level could prevent an estimated 823 000 annual deaths or 13·8 percent of all deaths of children younger than 24 months.”

He added: “Breastfeeding also provides health benefits to mothers, by helping to prevent postpartum bleeding, support child spacing, lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and earlier return to pre-pregnancy body weight. An estimated 20,000 maternal deaths could be prevented annually if optimal breastfeeding were practiced.”

He regretted that despite the benefits, the breastfeeding indices in Nigeria had fallen below optimal.

He cited the National Demographic and Health Survey 2018, which indicated that 97 percent of children were breastfed at one point or the other, while only 42 percent are put to the breast within 1 hour of birth and the proportion of children 0 to 6 months who are exclusively breastfed stood at 29 percent.

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