Fatimatu used to be convinced that feeding her babies only breast milk would leave them hungry and that they could not possibly thrive on breast milk alone. Cases of severe acute malnutrition, wasting and stunting are common among babies in Fatimatu’s community in Kebbi State, along with serious illnesses and deaths associated with poor feeding and hygiene practices. Th e mother-of-four had always attended ante-natal classes, she gave birth at the clinic and ensured her children were immunized. But she just could not believe the clinic’s advice about the benefi ts of exclusive breast feeding, soshe added herbs, water and other foods to the diets of her newborn babies.
It was only when she was pregnant with her fourth child and met a very happy mother holding a plump, healthy baby at an ante-natal clinic visit supported by UNICEF and the EU that she decided to re-think her decision about how to feed her babies. ‘I noticed with envy a very fi ne looking healthy child with very smooth skin and a happy mother. I went closer and greeted the child’s mother and asked her what she fed her child with.
I was surprised when the woman said it was only breast milk, and that the child is not yet six months old.’ Fatimatu, who lives in Birnin Kebbi LGA, was also surprised to learn that the woman’s husband had encouraged her to exclusively breastfeed after hearing about the benefi ts at a gathering of men who supported the practice. Th at encounter changed the way Fatimatu – and her husband – thought about feeding their children. Smiling proudly at the positive result for their sturdy four month-old son, Amer, Fatimatu said she plans to continue feeding him breast milk until he is two years old as the doctors recommended. ‘I will introduce complimentary feeding when he is six months old, but he is as healthy and happy as the other mother’s baby was,’ she said. – Geoff rey Njoku is a communication specialist with UNICEF