From 17 in 100 children, the proportion of children who are put to the breast within the first hour of life and go on to exclusively feed on breastmilk for the first six months has risen to 29 in 100 over the past five years.
That’s according to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 2018 released in December 2019.
A nationwide campaign to scale up infant nutrition through breastfeeding was launched a few years back to measure up to the global target average rate of at least 50 per cent by 2025 apart from its economic benefit.
But early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding are still thorny issues for many Nigerian women.
When her milk wouldn’t flow, and her baby wouldn’t stop crying, first-time mother Grace Emeka gave water. Soon she started with formula.
“Besides, I cannot cope with only breast milk because I will be resuming work soon since I took my leave before the delivery due to some complications,” she said.
Nursing mother Iheoma David introduced baby formula early because she needed to resume her bank job after childbirth.
“I am a working mother. I still breastfeed my baby alongside the complementary food when I return back from work and she feeds on breast milk very well at night.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), each year, at least 5.4 million children in Nigeria miss out on the benefits of breastfeeding, contributing to the country’s problem of chronic child malnutrition.
Also, 11 million children under age five are currently malnourished in Nigeria.
UNICEF said the low rate of exclusive breastfeeding leads to more than 100,000 child deaths and translates into almost 12 billion US dollars in future economic losses for the country.
An independent development consultant, Dr Omotola Davis says Nigeria can do better than its current 29%.
“One, our women that are getting pregnant, do they prepare them to know what goes into motherhood? Exclusive breastfeeding is part of mothering but many are not aware. It is in Nigeria that a substantial part of our children learnt how to fast and pray immediately after birth when they are denied the first breastfeeding initiation which is both beneficiary to the mothers and babies.
“You give water, that is not right and that amount to fasting. Our maternity, hospitals, facilities, the media, all of us have a part to play to be able to improve the situation and the people need to know the benefits embedded in the practice.
“Our mothers and fathers should have the understanding that breastfeeding is a very important issue that addresses climate change, it addresses the issue of ovarian cancer and reduces infant mortality among others. If all mothers are aware of these benefits, the will definitely buy into it.”
According to NDHS 2018 result, 97% of last-born children born in the two years before the survey were breastfed at some point while (42%) of children who were breastfed within one hour of birth, and 82% were breastfed within one day of birth. Nearly half of children (49%) received a prelacteal feed.
“Early initiation of breastfeeding is more common among children whose deliveries were assisted by health personnel (50%) than among those whose deliveries were assisted by traditional birth attendants (33%), no one (36%) or others (37%). Infants in urban areas were more likely to start breastfeeding within one hour of birth (49%) and less likely to receive a prelacteal feed (43%) than those in rural areas (38% and 53%, respectively.”
The survey also stated that children born to mothers with more than a secondary education were more likely to start breastfeeding within an hour of birth (52%) than children born to mothers with no education (34%). Conversely, children born to mothers with no education(60%) were more likely than those born to mothers with secondary education or higher (38%)to receive a prelacteal feed.
Exclusive Breastfeeding and Continued Breastfeeding contains all of the nutrients needed by children during their first six months of life. It is recommended that children be exclusively breastfed in the first six months of their lives; that is, they should be given nothing but breast milk.