Saturday 6 August 2016

Making a case for exclusive breastfeeding.

Source :WHO
Breastfeeding is a norm in Nigeria, but exclusive breastfeeding is not. Babies below six months of age most times are given other foods or liquids. Exclusive breastfeeding; feeding an infant on breast milk alone, is the gold standard for babies below six months old as it not only contains all the nutritional needs of babies that age but also protects them from several types of diseases. It has repeatedly been described as the safest and healthiest option for feeding infants. Experts recommend it should start from the first hour of a baby's life as this not only gives the baby good supply of the nutrient-rich colostrum which safeguards infants from dying during the most vulnerable time of their life,  but also helps establish and increase the supply of the more mature breast milk.

Today, the evidence on the power of exclusive breastfeeding is stronger than ever. 
Many mothers choose to practice this form of infant feeding  but get discouraged at some point either by the opinions of family members or the advice of poorly trained health workers,or even by several myths surrounding exclusive breastfeeding

Breast milk is said to be a potent medicine for disease prevention that is tailored to fit the needs of a baby, it has been described as the perfect elixir of immunity for infants. Feeding a baby below six months on breast milk alone gives the baby a complete dosage of this potent medicine; this also keeps the baby safe from contaminants in food and water that can cause diarrhea. It also makes makes the baby less susceptible to ear infections, pneumonia and several other childhood illnesses. 

A recent document published by the World Health Organization titled "From the first hour of life: making the case for improved infant and young child feeding everywhere" described breast milk as 'the most personalized form of medicine that any of us will receive in our lifetime'; this is largely because antibodies are produced to combat specific infections a baby is exposed to- a mother's body writes a prescription for illnesses unique to her baby's needs and environment. Human milk apart from being an excellent source of nutrients for an infant also contains a variety of immune components such as antibodies, growth factors, cytokines, antimicrobial compounds and specific immune cells. Feeding infants the recommended way gives the infant the recommended dosage of this highly personalized medicine.


Exclusive breastfeeding has been described as a high-impact, cost-effective solution for saving children's lives. As infants breastfeed, the immune composition of breast milk adjusts to the properties of their saliva. If the mother's body detects pathogens, it produces antibodies to fight them. There is the risk of contamination from non-breast milk feedings which can expose vulnerable newborns to life-threatening pathogens; besides they can take up valuable space in the newborn's stomach, leaving little room for complete breast milk . 

Exclusive breastfeeding guarantees infants a food source that is uniquely adapted to their needs while being safe, clean, healthy and accessible. According to the WHO document quoted above, feeding a baby below six months of age other things except breast milk makes the baby 2.8 times more likely to die than those who were exclusively  breastfed; exclusive breastfeeding can prevent 53% of hospital admissions for diarrhea and 27% of hospitalizations for lower respiratory infections each month. Research also suggests increases in a child's long-term heart capacity and shape in exclusively breastfed babies than those fed with infant formula. 

For a child six months and below, other foods are at best unnecessary and at worst life-threatening. Let us therefore join hands to promote this great infant feeding practice which has the potential to save countless lives.

Refuting some myths surrounding Exclusive breastfeeding in Nigeria

Today, more than ever, evidence abound on the immense benefits of exclusively breastfeeding a baby
below six months old. Like many practices, there are also myths surrounding Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF) among which are;

Image result for exclusive breastfeeding
  1.  Exclusive breastfeeding could make a child dehydrated, so a baby needs water: Breast milk is said to be about 88% water, especially the first milk that comes out in each feeding session. Thus, breast milk contains as much water as a baby below 6 months of age needs. Babies on EBF should simply be offered breast milk when it is suspected that they are thirsty. Giving water to babies comes with a lot of concerns especially in our part of the world where safe, drinking water is hardly assured.
  2.  EBF is stressful: Motherhood and all it entails can be really stressful but when it comes to ranking stressful activities, putting a baby to one's breasts for feeding can hardly be compared to preparing formula (or in fact any other baby food) as the latter is much more stressful.
  3. Exclusive breastfeeding must last up to 6 months.While six months is the standard length of time for practising EBF, it is nowhere etched in stone that it must last that long. Many Pediatricians recommend 6 months as the maximum length of time and 4 months the minimum. That is, complementary feeding can be introduced when a baby is four months of age, but not before then if the mother for one reason or the other feels there is need to do so. Some babies start showing interest in other foods before 6 months, some pediatricians recommend such babies should be introduced to other foods to sustain their interest in foods besides breast milk. 
  4.  You need to drink milk/tea always to keep up your milk supply: There is absolutely no scientific evidence to back this up. In fact, milk and other dairy products are linked to infant gas pain. EBF mums should simply take enough water to keep themselves hydrated. 
  5. Not every woman can produce enough milk to EBF: Research suggests that above 90% of women can produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed an infant. Milk supply can only be affected when the mother does not eat well or when she doesn't frequently put the baby to her breasts.
  6.  Breast milk alone does not sustain some babies below 6 months: Breast milk is more than enough to satisfy any baby aged 6 months and below. Giving a baby that young any other thing is unnecessary at best and very risky at worst as it could expose your baby to contaminants in food and water at that vulnerable stage of your baby's life.
  7.  Exclusively breastfed babies tend to be picky-eaters once weaned. This is absolutely untrue and has been proven so. Picky eating is a trait found in many babies both mix-fed and exclusively breastfed.
  8.  Exclusive breastfeeding is only for mums who cannot afford quality formula or those who cannot assure the safety of their drinking water. This is also absolutely untrue. EBF is for every woman who knows its advantages and can practice it; rich and poor alike.

Monday 1 August 2016

Breastfeeding: A key to Sustainable development

For the past 25 years, August 1 to 7 each year is celebrated as World Breastfeeding Week in many countries the world over. This year's theme is "Breastfeeding: a key to sustainable development". The activities mapped out for this year's celebrations hopes to highlight the links between breastfeeding and nutrition, food security, health, development, survival, achieving full educational potential and economic productivity.

The objectives this year are:

  1. To inform people about the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they relate to breastfeeding and Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF). 
  2. To firmly anchor breastfeeding as a key component of sustainable development.
  3. To galvanize a variety of actions at all levels on breastfeeding and IYCF in the new era of the SDGs.
  4. To engage and collaborate with a wider range of actors around the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding.  
Each of the 17 SDGs has an individual link with breastfeeding. The links are outlined below as culled from

  1.   No poverty: Breastfeeding is a natural and low-cost way of feeding babies and children. It is affordable for everyone and does not burden household budgets compared to artificial feeding. Breastfeeding contributes to poverty reduction.
  2.  Zero hunger: Exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond provide high quality nutrients and adequate energy and can help prevent hunger, under-nutrition and obesity. Breastfeeding also means food security for infants.
  3.   Good health and well being: Breastfeeding significantly improves the health, development and survival of infants and children. It also contributes to improved health and well-being of mothers, both in the short and long term.
  4. Quality education: Breastfeeding and adequate complimentary feeding are fundamentals for readiness to learn. Breastfeeding and good quality complementary foods significantly contribute to mental and cognitive development and thus promote learning.
  5. Gender equality: Breastfeeding is a great equalizer, giving every child a fair and best start in life. Breastfeeding is uniquely a right of women and they should be supported by women to breastfeed optimally. The breastfeeding experience can be satisfying and empowering for the mother as she would be in control of how she feeds her baby.
  6. Clean water and sanitation: Breastfeeding on demand provides all the water a baby needs even in hot weather. On the other hand, formula feeding requires access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation.
  7. Affordable and clean energy: Breastfeeding entails less energy when compared to formula production industries. It also reduces the need for water, firewood and fossil fuels in the home.
  8.  Decent work and economic growth: Breastfeeding women who are supported by their employers are more productive and loyal. Maternity protection and other workplace policies can enable women to combine breastfeeding and their work. Decent jobs should cater to the needs of breastfeeding women especially those in precarious situations.
  9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure:  With industrialization and urbanization, the time and space challenges become more prominent. Breastfeeding mothers who work outside the home need to manage these challenges and be supported by employers, their own families and communities. Crèches near their workplace, lactation rooms and breastfeeding breaks can make a big difference.
  10. Reduced inequalities: Breastfeeding practices differ across the globe. Breastfeeding needs to be protected, promoted and supported among all, but in particular among poor and vulnerable groups. This will help to reduce inequalities.
  11. Sustainable cities and communities: In the bustle of big cities, breastfeeding mothers and their babies need to feel safe and welcome in all public spaces. When disaster and humanitarian crises strike, women and their children are affected disproportionately. Pregnant and lactating mothers need particular support during such times.
  12.  Responsible consumption and production: Breastfeeding provides a healthy, viable, non-polluting, non-resource intensive, sustainable and natural source of nutrition and sustenance.
  13.  Climate action: Breastfeeding safeguards infant health and nutrition in times of adversity and weather-related disasters due to global warming.
  14.   Life below water: Breastfeeding entails less waste compared to formula feeding. Industrial formula production and distribution lead to waste that pollutes the seas and affects marine life.
  15.  Life on land: Breastfeeding is ecological compared to formula feeding. Formula production implies dairy farming that often puts pressure on natural resources and contributes to carbon emissions and climate change.
  16.  Peace and justice strong institutions: Breastfeeding is enshrined in many human rights frameworks and conventions. National legislations and policies to protect and support breastfeeding mothers and babies are needed to ensure that their rights are upheld.
  17. Partnerships for the goals: The global strategy for infant and young child feeding (GSIYCF) fosters multi-sectoral collaboration, and can  build upon various partnerships for support of development through breastfeeding programs and initiatives.   

As we mark the week-long celebration, let us make conscious efforts to encourage breastfeeding mothers to keep up the good work of contributing towards achieving the SDGs come 2030.