By Bilikis Bakare
Breastfeeding in practice and application is viewed as a human right issue by several international organisations including the United Nations International Children Educational Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The National Exclusive Breastfeeding Rate, according to the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey, though improved slightly from 13% in 2008 to 15% in 2011 and 17% in 2013 according to the National Health Demographic Survey, this is still very low when compared with the great importance of breastfeeding to infant and young child growth and invariably national development.
Breastfeeding is as old as man and was considered as the norm in ancient times up to the 18th century, but civilization, coupled with the downturn of the economy, in most nations, have necessitated women to seek for jobs outside the home, consequently contributing, in no small measure, to the apathy of mothers towards exclusive breastfeeding.
Subsequently, mothers in urban centres began dispensing with breastfeeding due to work requirement. But the practice declined significantly from 1900-1960 due to improved sanitation, nutritional technologies and increasingly negative social attitude towards it.
Phenomenally, from the 1960s onward, breastfeeding experienced a revival which continues till date, probably due to the massive public enlightenment of mothers on its importance by United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) through the various home governments across the world. Before the miraculous revival of breastfeeding among mothers, a large number of modern day women had the belief that engaging in the process causes the breasts to sag, an insinuation that is farther from the truth.
In human anatomy, women’s breasts are made up of specialized tissue that produces milk which is known as glandular tissue as well as fatty tissue. It is the amount of fat in the fatty tissue that determines the size of the breast while the shape is determined by connective tissues and ligaments that provide support. The milk producing part is organised into 15- 20 sections called lobes within which are smaller structures called lobules where milk is produced. The milk then travels through tiny tubes called ducts which connects and come together into larger ducts that exits in the nipples. The breast also contains blood vessels, lymph vessels and lymph nodes.
Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants. Breast milk meets the nutritional and anti- infection requirements of infants for optimal growth, development and survival; as such it is an extremely essential component in the application of effective child survival strategy .Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients to help infant grow into a strong and healthy toddler. Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced after the delivery of a baby and the end of pregnancy is recommended by the [WHO] as the perfect food for the newborn. It is very nutritious and contains substances that fight infection although it is a common practice among some mothers to express this very nutritious milk with the belief that it is dirty due to its colour.
It is expected that breastfeeding should commence in the first hour after birth and thereafter frequent sucking by baby to increase milk production should be encouraged. And since it is readily available and affordable, it is the belief that all mothers can breastfeed except in cases of ill health and defects like inverted, flat or pierced nipples which could make breastfeeding difficult. But with the recommendations of obstetricians and pediatricians adopted methods for breastfeeding can be worked out which could be in form of expressing the breast milk into a cup through the use of a specially made breast pump.
It is essential that babies are breastfed exclusively for a period of six months and subsequently appropriate complementary foods should be introduced up to two years of age and beyond. It is in the realisation of the importance of breastfeeding that the Lagos State Government has extended the maternity leave of its female employees by three months in line with the state policy of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life.
Also, the policy is to address the current trend in under five nutritional status in Nigeria with particular reference to the South West region, where Lagos State belongs, of stunting rate of 41% in 2008 and 37% in 2013; wasting rate at 14% in 2008 and 18% in 2013 and underweight statistics at 24% in 2008 and 29% in 2013. This is an indication of increased malnutrition among under five largely caused by ineffective breastfeeding practice from birth, especially as it relates to early initiation of breastfeeding and appropriate breastfeeding practice.
The benefits of breastfeeding to the mother, child and society at large are unquantifiable. Breast milk supply all necessary nutrients needed for baby’s growth in the right proportion and the right temperature and also protect the infant from infections and illnesses like diarrhea and vomiting. It keeps baby well hydrated and promotes proper teeth and speech development in later years of the child’s development. It establishes emotional bonding between mother and child and helps protects the former from the risks of breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding helps the wall of the uterus to return to its normal shape in mothers that exclusively engages in it. And the society will benefit from a mentally stable and physically strong individual.
Therefore, as countries across the globe celebrate the World Breastfeeding Week 2014 from 1st to 7th August, with the theme “BREASTFEEDING: A winning goal- for life!”, emphasis should be placed on the promotion and support for, early initiation of breastfeeding (within thirty minutes of delivery), exclusive breastfeeding practice, continuous breastfeeding with complementary feeding from six months of age to two years and beyond, along with other breastfeeding issues and practices.
Immediate family members, especially husbands, should provide moral and material support for their wives in order to go through the process of breastfeeding without stress. This support can be in form of good and nutritious foods that will make the mothers healthy enough to breastfeed or by being extra loving and caring to motivate the wife.
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Actions (WABA) has considered that everyone in the world should identify one way or the other, to protect and encourage every breastfeeding mother for an effective and pleasant breastfeeding experience.
Everyone should be committed to promoting exclusive breastfeeding, during which nothing but the mother’s breast milk is introduced to the mouth of the baby as a child survival intervention that is unequaled. This is the right thing to do.
•Bakare wrote from Alausa, Ikeja
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