Imbibe breastfeeding culture

The global community is currently observing the first week of the month of August as International Week for Breastfeeding. The week is jointly organised and promoted worldwide by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to get the elite breastfeeding mothers to do the needful.

Conceived on February 14, 1991 as a vehicle to promote comprehensive breastfeeding culture, the Week was first celebrated by the WABA in 1992. The gospel has caught on in over 170 countries through the aggressive campaigns by the other relevant agencies of the United Nations. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Let’s Make Breastfeeding and Work, Work”.

Breastfeeding has been said to be the best form of feeding babies in the first six months of life. Aside from intimacy between mother and child that the practice promotes, breast milk is said to contain nutrients that aid child development. Breast-fed babies have been found to have higher Intelligence Quotient (IQ) than those who were not fed with breast milk.

Furthermore, breast milk contains anti-bodies that help babies fight infections. Pediatricians argue that breast milk can also affect insulin levels in the blood, which may make breast-fed babies less likely to develop diabetes and obesity.

Breastfeeding serves as a bulwark against hundreds of deaths and many more costly illnesses health problems such as stomach viruses, ear infections, asthma, juvenile diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) neonatal jaundice, pneumonia, cholera among others and even childhood leukemia.

Though breast-feeding is often difficult for working mothers, those who can undertake it are encouraged to do so, in view of the enormity of the benefits highlighted. The breast milk can be pumped or expressed into a feeding bottle and stored in the fridge to be warmed for the baby while the mother is at work, but that seems only practicable for mothers who have nannies or relations at home to take care of their babies. Day Care Centres are not likely to accept such arrangements to avoid mixing up children’s feeding bottles.

Besides, the breast milk can only survive for some hours in the feeding bottle, and one has to be sure that the baby would not be fed with it after it has become stale. This method, therefore requires dedicated nannies or baby-sitters to ensure that babies are fed with the breast milk in feeding bottles only few hours after the mothers leave for work.

Some women avoid breast-feeding because of the sagging effect on the breasts, as well as other inconveniences like the nipples becoming sore and painful, or the frequency of sucking by the child (especially male children) which requires frequent eating by the mother.

But considering the short and long-term benefits of the practice, no sacrifice is too much for a (good) mother to make to ensure the general wellbeing of her child. It is part of their mothers to raise healthy children, and those who deny their children this benefit of good health in the name of looking shapely or for any other avoidable reason will have the deadly consequences to contend with. The reality that mothers should brace up to is that whether they breast-feed their babies properly or not, those pointed breasts they are proud of will still sag in the long run. They are merely postponing the evil day.

There is also the need for nursing mothers to eat balanced diet while breast-feeding in view of the fact that the quality of food she eats determines the quality of the breast milk produced. A woman who is condemned to carbohydrate foods cannot give out breast milk rich in protein and other vitamins and minerals that are necessary for her baby’s growth and wellbeing. Deficiency of these essential vitamins and minerals can cause serious medical conditions that would warrant frequenting hospitals and swallowing drugs which could have serious side effects, especially if the root causes are not immediately identified.

Nursing mothers should endeavour to eat foods rich in protein, vitamins and minerals to pass them on to their babies through their breast milk. That is when the purpose of breast-feeding will be fully achieved and the exercise can be said to be worthwhile.

However, the annual ritual has not taken deep root in this country. It is public knowledge that most Nigerian nursing mothers especially the educated and working class ones do not attach any serious importance to breastfeeding especially as recommended by the global agencies.

Before the introduction of infant formulae into the Nigerian space, mothers, without any prompting, breastfed their babies for close to three years or even more. Many kids of those days were old enough to help themselves with their mothers’ breasts. They used breast milk to wash down solid meals introduced to them long after cutting their teeth.

As Nigeria celebrates the week, we urge government at all levels to borrow a leaf from the Lagos state Government which increased the maternity leave of working mothers to six months as far back as 2014 and recently by the Kwara state Government in line with the recommendation of the WABA so as to encourage exclusive breastfeeding within the period.