Written by Ijeoma UKAZU

Exclusive breastfeeding: Ensuring children’s optimal growth

Exclusive breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and infant as breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life.



Research has shown that, exclusive breastfeeding protects against diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, and may also have longer-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence.

Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk. No other liquids or solids are given, not even water with the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, in the last two decades, child mortality has decreased considerably, but close to seven million children under five years of age still die each year, mainly from preventable causes.

Of those, newborn deaths now represent nearly half of all child deaths under five years as immediate breastfeeding, putting the baby to the mother’s breast within an hour after birth would significantly reduce neonatal mortality.

UNICEF also said that, early and exclusive breastfeeding helps children survive, and it also supports healthy brain development, improves cognitive performance and is associated with better educational achievement at age five.

Experts say, early initiation of breast milk within the first hour of life also encourages bonding between the mother and her newborn, facilitating the production of regular breast milk.

They said, this early initiation is important for both the mother and the child, as the first breast milk contains colostrum, which is highly nutritious and has antibodies that protect the newborn from diseases.

Speaking in an interview, UNICEF's Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Maureen Zubie-Okolo, said among its benefits, "exclusive breastfeeding is known to improve the health, growth, and survival status of newborns, lower risk for many early life illnesses, including diarrhea and respiratory infections."



Reeling out indicators from the National Demographic Health Survey, NDHS 2018 has pointed in a new report, that despite the attainment of 29 percent on exclusive breastfeeding, Nigeria is still lagging behind from the global target.

Zubie-Okolo said, exclusive breastfeeding among children age zero to six months has increased since 2013, from 17 percent to 29 percent.

She however added that the percentage of children who had ever been breastfed was 97 percent in both 2008 and 2018.

According to her, "the percentage of children who started breastfeeding within one hour of birth has increased by nine percentage points since 2013, from 33 percent to 42 percent while the percentage of those who started breastfeeding within one day of birth has increased from 65 percent to 82 percent since 2008."

Explaining, the UNICEF Specialist said, "breast milk 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 life; that is, they should be given nothing but breast milk."

On infant mortality, Zubie-Okolo added that the NDHS points that Nigeria still parades an unenviable rate of 67 deaths per 1,000 live births.

According to her, "exclusive breastfeeding in 2013 was 17 percent. It's progressive when compared to 2018 with 29 percent, though it is still low but we see a positive trend with a 12 percent point increase.

"It is an improvement but with more advocacy and sensitization particularly at the community level, we saw an improvement for that indicator, that the more women understands the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, the better for both mother and child.

Speaking on the brain development of children, the Specialist added that, breast milk is extremely important particularly for the first one thousand days of the child's life.

According to an independent consultant, Dr. Davis Omotola said, the global target is to ensure that all babies are exclusively breastfed because by denying that child breast milk, what does the mother intends to feed the child with?.

Omotola said, exclusive breastfeeding is beneficial to both mother and child, stressing that, for the woman, "her uterus goes back inside and takes its original shape while if she didn't practice exclusive breastfeeding, the uterus expands and as she gives birth to more children without breastfeeding them exclusively, it enlarges further.

"That is because, each time a woman gives birth, the breast accumulates two Kilo Gram, KG of fat and if it is not shed, it forms part of the body, and the number of fat increases subsequently as she continues to give birth and by that time, her brassiere can no longer fit due to the additional kilo grams. She ends up having a fatty stomach and a big breast.

"A normal healthy pregnancy takes about 10 kilo gram and it will be distributed accordingly; two kg on the breast, about three kg each on the body fluid and amniotic fluid, three point five kg will be part of the baby in the womb.

"Ones the woman delivers the blood, water and baby; with each breast feed, the uterus contracts and expels the water and blood that is there and that is how the stomach flattens."

He added that it has been proven that women who did not exclusively breast feed their children ends up with breast and uterine cancer.

He advised that women should endeavour to care for their children as in the long run, the child will care for them.








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