• Monday, March 04, 2024
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Breastfeeding and infant mortality


Infant mortality occurs when a child dies before reaching the age of one year. Many factors such as the mother’s level of education, environmental issues, access to healthcare and the quality of social infrastructure could cause an infant’s death. According to UNICEF, about half of the world’s under-five deaths presently occur in five countries including Nigeria, India, Congo, Pakistan and China. In Nigeria, under-five mortality rate has increased from 138 per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 158 per 1,000 live births in 2011, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS4) report. The implication of this is that 158 out of every 1,000 Nigerian children will die before they celebrate their fifth birthday.

Experts have, however, indicated that the way out of this precarious situation, astonishingly, partly lies in the mother’s breasts. It has been ascertained that breast milk contains the exact balance of nutrients to aid infant develop into a strong and healthy toddler. The World Health Organisation has recommended colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced after the birth of a baby and the end of pregnancy, as the ideal meal for infants. According to WHO, colostrum has been found to be extremely nourishing and therapeutic as it contains stuffs that insulate infant from infection. It has, therefore, recommended that nursing mothers should begin breastfeeding immediately after birth and subsequently should observe regular sucking by baby to boost milk production.
Being naturally supplied by providence, breast milk is gamely accessible and affordable. Since the mother doesn’t have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles, breastfeeding saves time and money. It also gives the mother quality time to unwind calmly with her baby which is quite essential for bonding between the two. Except for extreme medical reasons, every mother can easily breastfeed. In cases that have to do with severe medical condition, affected mother could, on the recommendations of obstetricians and paediatricians, embrace alternative process for breastfeeding, such as expressing the breast milk into a cup through the use of a specifically made breast pump.
It is in view of the tremendous importance of breastfeeding to the overall survival of the infant that the UNICEF, WHO, World Alliance for Breast Feeding Action (WABA) and other similar bodies frequently provide elaborate platform and support for the World Breastfeeding Week, a yearly event held August 1-7. Over the years the event, which was first observed in 1992 by WABA, has been fully embraced by more than 120 countries across the globe. The underlining objective behind the annual event is to promote concerted global action to support women to merge breastfeeding and work. Irrespective of the working environment of a woman, it is essential that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.

It is the conviction of the promoters of WBW that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months brings terrific health benefits through the provision of vital nutrients, protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia, and fostering growth and development in the infant.
A lot has been achieved within the last 22 years of global action in promoting women combining breastfeeding and work, particularly the adoption of the revised ILO Convention 183 on Maternity Protection with much stronger maternity entitlements and more country actions on improving national laws and practices. At the workplace level, more actions have been taken to set up breastfeeding or mother-friendly workplaces including awards for breastfeeding-friendly employers, as well as greater mass awareness on working women’s rights to breastfeed. The Innocenti Declaration of 1990 affirmed that breastfeeding provides ideal nutrition for infants and contributes to their healthy growth and development.
The theme for this year’s annual WBW, “Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make it Work!”, has been carefully chosen to encourage and promote breastfeeding among the working class mothers. It is meant to solicit the support of employers of labour for positive attitude towards motherhood and successful breastfeeding practice in the office environment. Hence, the 2015 WBW seeks to engage target groups like trade unions, workers’ rights organizations, women and youth groups to protect the breastfeeding rights of women in the workplace. According to experts, time, space and support are the three elements needed to ensure successful breastfeeding by women in the work environment.
In Lagos State, it is the realization that breastfeeding is the most cost-beneficial investment in child survival and development strategies that is behind the introduction of six months maternity leave for all nursing female workers for first two births. Similarly, the government has also approved paternity leave of two weeks for all working fathers in its employ in realization of the need for psychological support for nursing mothers. The policy is to address the current trend in under-five nutritional status in Nigeria with its resulting increase in malnutrition among under-five largely caused by ineffective breastfeeding practice from birth.

The policy is also geared towards increasing the attention of parents to the basic developmental needs of their infants, especially during the first six months, which medical science has proved to play very great role in the physical, mental and emotional development of a child.
Without a doubt, breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants. It is, however, vital that the society, especially direct family members, to provide all necessary support for nursing mothers in order to make the process of breastfeeding a seamless experience. This could be achieved through the provision of high-quality and nourishing foods for the breastfeeding mother. It has been discovered that some men discourage their wives from practicing exclusive breastfeeding because of the fear that their breasts might become droopy.

There is, of course, no precise scientific backing for this. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has shown that failure on the part of mothers to breastfeed their infants could lead to an increased incidence of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained gestational weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome.
It has, consequently, become imperative for all stakeholders to give maximum backing to UNICEF, WABA, WHO and their partners in their quest to promote exclusive breastfeeding among mothers across the world. As it has been clearly illustrated by the theme for this year’s WBW, it is only through the collaboration of all key actors that the laudable mission of promoting and globalizing breastfeeding can be achieved. As it has been previously stressed, exclusive breastfeeding is good for both the mother and her baby. Together, we can make it work.

Q: As it has been clearly illustrated by the theme for this year’s WBW, it is only through the collaboration of all key actors that the laudable mission of promoting and globalizing breastfeeding can be achieved.


Tayo Ogunbiyi

Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.