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Over 70% infants in Nigeria denied benefits of breast milk — UNICEF, WHO

As the world marks the breastfeeding week, the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday said 70 percent of infants in Nigeria are denied the benefits of breast milk in their formative years.

According to the organisations, this is consequent of the fact that the exclusive breastfeeding rate is at 29 percent in Nigeria.

In a statement to mark the week, UNICEF and WHO further disclose that only 9 percent of organizations in Nigeria have a workplace breastfeeding policy, indicating that mothers lack the enabling environment to optimally breastfeed their babies.

“The results are high stunting rates of 37% of children Under-5, of which 21 percent are severe, and wasting among children under 5 years of age (7 percent). They continue to present severe consequences for the child,” the statement jointly signed by UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell and WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus read.

They noted that as global crises continue to threaten the health and nutrition of millions of babies and children, the vital importance of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life is more critical than ever.

“This World Breastfeeding Week, under its theme Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support, UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings,” the statement read.

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“Breastfeeding also acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses. Yet the emotional distress, physical exhaustion, lack of space and privacy, and poor sanitation experienced by mothers in emergency settings mean that many babies are missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding to help them survive.

“Fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death. And only 44 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50 percent by 2025.

“Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding is more important than ever, not just for protecting our planet as the ultimate natural, sustainable, first food system, but also for the survival, growth, and development of millions of infants,” the statement further read.

The UNICEF and WHO , therefore called on governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to step up efforts to: Prioritize investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts;

Equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed;

Protect caregivers and health care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings.

Implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space, and support they need to breastfeed.

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