June 25, 2018

Breastfeeding is the most natural and best way to feed babies. And the benefits derivable from breastfeeding of newborns are legion, but not many are aware that the benefits extend to both babies and mothers.

From the World Health Organization, WHO to the United Nations Children Educational Fund, UNICEF and many other relevant national and international organizations, including pediatric associations recommend that no other food besides breast milk be given to babies from day one until they are six months old at the earliest.

Furthermore, it is advised that breastfeeding should continue even after starting babies on solid foods at six months. This is the concept called “baby-friendly”, and the main reason is that this approach is the best way to develop a strong immunity system for the newborn child among many other invaluable benefits.

The Goodness in Breast Milk

According the 2016 Lancet series on Breastfeeding, “the benefits of unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding practices as initiated within an hour from birth results in

  1. Ample milk production to sustain the infants; (except for a few medical conditions),
  2. Leads to 87% preventable deaths in infants younger than 6 months (2016),
  • Reduces infant mortality associated with common childhood illnesses like diarrhea or pneumonia and
  1. Ensures quicker recovery from illnesses.

The mother also benefits maximally in child spacing, reduction of ovarian and breast cancers, and ensuring rapid maternal weight loss after birth,” it was further supported.

Breastfeeding Rates Around The World

One would then be forgiven for taking it for granted that many mothers and would-be mothers will be eager to acquiesce to these informed directions once they realized the enormous benefits they and their babies stand to gain from the practice. But it is not the case worldwide in spite of the age-long campaign for breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Rates In Nigeria

Even more worrying is that here in Nigeria where many of us are weaned and grew up on the breastfeeding tradition, we seem to have fallen behind in the rates of adoption of breastfeeding by our women, whilst the leading countries in terms of practice and adherence are fellow African nations.

Nigeria is nowhere amongst the highest countries by rates, we are more in the company of the lowest.

According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), Nigeria’s exclusive breastfeeding rate (breastfeeding babies from 0-6 months of age) was a paltry 17 percent in 2013, while the National Nutrition and Health Survey had it at 25 percent in 2014.

A mere 18percentage point improvement over a 20-year period from 7.4% in 1994.  By comparison, Ghana’s exclusive breastfeeding rate improved from same 7.4% as Nigeria in 1994 to a commendable 63% in 2013.

What is going on with our mothers?

Is this a direct fallout of our avowed civilization or modernization? Or is it the fast increasing rave of “feminism” gripping more and more of our women? The likely factors responsible for our poor adherence rate will be examined in subsequent posts.

Given this worryingly slow rate of improvement, the amazing and invaluable benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child in more ways than one cannot therefore be overemphasized:

  1. Breast milk provides all the nutrition the baby needs.

Especially in those early days and months when the infant is unable to take solid foods and indulge in varieties.

  1. Breast milk fortifies the child with strong immunity.

This natural food from mothers is chockfull of hundreds of antibodies and enzymes as well as other helpful materials that together form the immune system that protects babies from many infections and childhood diseases such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, ear infections, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastrointestinal infections, lower respiratory tract infections, among others.

  1. Breast milk is easy for the baby to digest

The liquid state of breast milk makes it most suitable for babies’ digestive system to tolerate.

  1. It is always at the right temperature

Coming directly from the mother’s body, breast milk is not only natural, it always comes at the right temperature and therefore safe and healthy for the baby.

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  1. It is easy to provide and always handy

Hey, this one is a winner! Besides regular breast hygiene, you don’t have to go through several processes to get it ready, as it is always ready. No rushing around to boil water, no panicking for running out of formula, no aggravations from having to look for materials and utensils… just roll over or sit up and draw your baby closer.

  1. It helps develop stronger bones in later life

Apart from fortifying the immune system, breastfeeding comes with loads and loads of naturally occurring calcium that helps strengthens the baby’s bones for later years.

  1. Breastfeeding helps mothers manage their weight

This motherly duty is a sweat-free exercise that helps burn tons of calories, and in the process helping new mothers fight the unavoidable accumulation of “baby-fat” and return more quickly to pre-pregnancy weight. This happens because

  1. It helps mother and child to bond

If practiced regularly for the recommended period, it brings about a quicker and closer bond between mother and infant in those early stages of the baby’s life. During breastfeeding, mothering hormones like oxytocin and prolactin are released which help in the process of producing milk, calming babies and getting you in the mood to nurture, thus bringing pleasures beyond the act of feeding.

  1. Helps fight cancer

Breastfeeding significantly lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women

  1. It helps prevent diabetes and heart attacks

Before now, various research reports had propounded the theory that breastfeeding increases insulin sensitivity and improves glucose metabolism in the mother. But in recent months, new researchers in the United States have been able to affirm after a 30-year long study, “that those who had breastfed their children for at least six months were 47 percent less likely to have developed type 2 diabetes during the three decades compared to mothers who did not breastfeed”.

In the report published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, Dr. Erica Gunderson, senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in California further confirmed that “we found a very strong association between breastfeeding duration and lower risk of developing diabetes, even after accounting for all possible confounding risk factors”.

This final point is particularly delightful and should be an encouraging factor for our nursing and prospective mothers to take breastfeeding serious and for the longest time possible.

 Nigeria’s lack of progress in exclusive breastfeeding should be an anomaly that we must consciously reverse in the shortest possible period because the fact that exclusively breastfed babies are 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child, and that breastfeeding drastically reduces the propensity of mothers to suffer from diabetes, hypertension, and heart attacks should be an attractive enough incentive to let our newborns latch on to our breasts and suckle on the natural blessed milk that flows forth.

At St. Ives hospital, we offer a specialized lactation service and consultations entailing lectures and practical guides, given by qualified lactation experts (doctors and nurses), for expectant mothers who register for antenatal care and deliver in our hospitals.

About The Author

Mrs. Olawunmi Olurantimi is a Registered Nurse and Midwife.

She is presently the Chief Nursing Officer at St. Ives Hospital, Lagos

Posted in Blog by Lekan