COVID-19 has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services in many countries. Several countries have reported that producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit COVID-19. BUKOLA BAKARE Writes.
According to a statement by the UNICEF and WHO on the 2021 World Breastfeeding Week, “While there has been progress in breastfeeding rates in the last four decades–with a 50 per cent increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding globally–COVID-19 pandemic highlights the fragility of those gains.
The statement further stated that the pandemic has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services in many countries, while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.
Several countries have reported that producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit COVID-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding.
According to WHO, before breastfeeding, a mother should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. In case of unavailability of water, one can use a hand sanitiser with at least 60 per cent alcohol content. Additionally, one should always wear a mask during any contact with the baby, including while feeding.
The question of exclusive breastfeeding as the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need has been a subject of several studies. Exclusive breastfeeding by definition is giving the baby only breast milk from birth until 6 months of age. It means the child will not be giving water or herbal concoction for a whole six months.
Exclusive breastfeeding is universally recognized as the most cost effective, high impact preventive intervention that promotes the health of mothers and babies while reducing health care costs for government and families.
According to United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), it is described as the cornerstone of care for childhood development and the gold standard of infant feeding as it provides all the nutrients that a child needs for the first six months of life. Breast milk continues to provide essential nutrients for childhood development up to two years.
To further drive the breastfeeding message home, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from August 1-7. The celebration provides wonderful opportunity of refreshing knowledge or setting agenda for nursing mothers on breastfeeding for a whole week.
First celebrated in 1992 by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), it is now observed in over 120 countries by UNICEF, WHO and their partners to spread awareness about benefits of breastmilk and exclusive breastfeeding as well as factors that could promote or hinder exclusive breastfeeding by nursing mothers and recommendations of way forward.
The theme of 2021 Breastfeeding Week, “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility’’ is very fitting as breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding is a win-win for all – baby, mother, family and the society.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) should help us to recommit to doing more to help every child, everywhere, realize the life saving benefits of breastfeeding, no matter where they live.
To commemorate the week, the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) Lagos Chapter had a lineup of activities geared towards effective breastfeeding promotion, support, education, research, progressive trends and normalizing breastfeeding as the gold standard of infant nutrition.
In a bid to raise awareness about the essence of breastfeeding, the NAWOJ dedicated its August Congress to celebrate the Week via a Support Walk from the Ikeja City Mall to the premises of the Lagos Television, Agidingbi, Ikeja.
Speaking to the media, Chairperson NAWOJ, Lagos Chapter, Comrade Adeola Ekine, explained that it became imperative to stage the walk as the world celebrates Breastfeeding Week to spread more awareness about its importance and the need to adequately breastfeed babies.
“The theme for this year’s celebration is very apt as it reinforces the need to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. We, therefore, felt the need to sensitize the community, especially mothers on the positives of exclusively breastfeeding.”
Ekine added that breastfeeding a baby is one of the most overwhelming experiences a mother can have. Ekine also noted that men should be involved in the process by supporting their wives to create a conducive environment for breastfeeding in the home front.
“It is imperative that men support their wives and partners so that babies can effectively reap the numerous benefits that come with the practice. Additionally, families, workplaces and communities should also work together in the campaign of breastfeeding and protect the interest of mothers.”
No doubt, breastfeeding improves the survival, health, and development of all children. It saves women’s lives and contributes to human capital development. These benefits are irrespective of where you live and your economic status.
Babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives have lower risk of respiratory infection, sudden infant death syndrome and fewer bouts of diarrhea. Breastfeeding also protects the babies from adult on set of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes mellitus. It also reduces ill health in children, improves their educational potential and probably their earnings as adults.
Exclusive breastfeeding also helps to bring about bonding of baby and mother and helps delays a new pregnancy. It also boosts the child’s Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and lowers his or her tendency of developing into a violent adult. The findings from WHO and partners estimate that global economic losses from lower cognition associated with not breastfeeding reached more than US$ 300 billion in 2012, equivalent to 0.49 per cent of the world’s gross national income.
Yet, worldwide, there are still low levels of optimal breastfeeding. Very low exclusive breastfeeding rate has persisted among mothers in Nigeria with the National rate at 25% in 2014 (National Nutrition and Health Survey, 2014). This rate varies across the geopolitical zones with the lowest rate in the North West at 10% and highest rate in the South West at 39%. The rates in other regions are South East 18%, North East 22%, South-South 31%, and North Central 32%.
Top on the findings of factors that cause this is that women in the workplace often did not have enough maternal protection from their employers. There are also factors of hormonal challenges, lack of family support, societal influence, influence of extended families and social status. This brings to the fore the question of maternity leave: Should maternity leave be six months on national scale?
Lagos State has already implemented this and others can take a cue from the Lagos example. This is especially important as most establishments in Nigeria do not make any provisions for crèches where breastfeeding mothers can bring their babies so that the babies are close enough for the mothers to take breastfeeding breaks and breastfeed their infants.
All stakeholders are enjoined to give maximum backing to t 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.
Bakare is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja