FEATURE: Mothers’ attitude to breastfeeding and matters arising

By Ibukun Emiola, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Conversations on breastfeeding issues have shown that many people are ignorant of the enormous benefits it has.

Adebimpe Ayoola (not the real name), a 51-year-old mother, was addressing a young mother and a spinster on how she literally forced a mother of a four months old baby to give water to the baby who was on exclusive breastfeeding.

Ayoola claimed that she did same for her own children, insisting erroneously that it ought to be the right healthy practice.

Many more Nigerians are disposed to this belief that exclusive breastfeeding should be accompanied with water or local herbal preparations but health experts’ opinions negate this belief.

The arguments of some proponents of this erroneous practice are that the baby cannot be satisfied with breast milk only, so, babies still need water with exclusive breastfeeding.

Also, the argue that babies need complementary nutrients which breast milk cannot offer among others.

Dr Olukemi Tongo, President, Nigerian Society of Neonatal Medicine, expresses concern about this development, observing that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the country has become so low.

She notes that for babies to get the full benefits of breast milk, mothers need to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life for all the benefits accrued from breastfeeding.

According to her, some of the benefits include the babie’s growth, good development, emotional development, immunity to fight infections.

“So that in the future they will have lower disease chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, allergies and all that; aside that the cognitive development of the baby is superb with breast milk.

“Even when they start complementary food after six months, they should continue with breastfeeding for up to two years,’’ she said.

Tongo, who is also a Consultant Paediatrician Neonatologist University College Hospital (UCH), says cost of exclusive breastfeeding is low compared to formula food.

She enjoins families at this period of economic downturn to take exclusive breastfeeding to save cost for the family.

“It will save cost in terms of what you are buying and prevent illness for the baby and the mother. So we need everybody at this point in time to be committed to exclusive breastfeeding,’’ she states.

Tongo emphasises the need to support mothers, helping them and educating them on the value of breastfeeding.

“Not only the mothers need education but every member of the family because when they know the value of breastfeeding, they will encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies exclusively.

“There should be provision for a place where mothers can breastfeed their babies when they are on break during working hours.

“Employers need to know that they too will benefit from making the environment conducive for their workers to breastfeed,’’ the consultant advises.

Tongo, nonetheless, states that there are dangers when mothers don’t breastfeed.

“They are at the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and so on and the cost of treatment if these conditions are high, so the economic loss is enormous as well as impacts on other family members and the entire community.

“Exclusive breastfeeding helps prevent environmental degradation. In fact, you reverse environmental degradation by breastfeeding.

“The need for the present substitute will reduce when you breastfeed. They have to rear the kind of cows that would pollute the environment to make formula food,’’ she explains.

The neonatologist believes that exclusive breastfeeding will also help in attaining Sustainable Development Goals; poverty, hunger, food security, gender equality, health for all and that breastfeeding helps in all the areas.

“Even in terms of renewable energy because to make formulas you will have to boil water, sterilise your equipment and all that will consume electricity. So taking to breastfeeding will save energy and cost.

“Imagine, in Nigeria we have more than seven million babies born every year, so you can imagine what we are saving in terms of boiling water for seven million babies.


“Breast milk is easy and convenient for babies and mothers and it aids bonding between baby and mother.

“Even when babies are sick breast milk is the only thing that they usually take without vomiting and that would be the only thing that would sustain them for one or two days they are down even the older one.

“When babies break down due to malaria and all that, breast-fed babies have extra immunity. They will not have diarrhoea that will take them to the hospital with complications, they will be just fine,’’ she observes.

Also, Mrs Motunrayo Oduneye, Chief Dietitian at Dietetics Department UCH, notes that the current situation in terms of data in Oyo State on breastfeeding is a challenge.

“In Oyo State, the breastfeeding rate is not bad however, we are still battling with encouraging and improving the data of exclusive breastfeeding, that is giving to the baby breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life.

“In Nigeria the art of breastfeeding at a time was not so encouraging because many mothers see the formula food as an alternative.

“But overtime, with lots of information and knowledge shared by healthcare professionals indicating the importance of breastfeeding, mothers have adopted breastfeeding in Nigeria, which has been quite encouraging.

“Water is a major contending factor with this art of breastfeeding, that is giving water alongside breast milk.

“The composition of water in breast milk is about 75 per cent. So there is no need for water alongside breast milk for the first six months of a baby’s life,’’ Oduneye explains.

She notes further that the challenges in the art of breastfeeding include the fact that mothers being working class either with the state or Federal Government or being entrepreneurs or self-employed could hinder exclusive breastfeeding.

“Some mothers still believe that only breast milk will not be enough for a child. But breast milk in the first six months of life contains all the necessary nutrients in quantity and quality that a child requires at this stage of life.

“Mothers should desist from giving lame excuses but ensure that the child is well positioned for breastfeeding, but this art is taught at the antenatal clinic during pregnancy.

“Antenatal clinic should give nothing less than four lectures on breastfeeding out of the 10 times mothers attend ante-natal.

“Learning the art of breastfeeding would make it easier for mothers to breastfeed their babies,’’ Oduneye notes.

The dietitian advises that mothers must eat well while breastfeeding, warning that breastfeeding period should not be a time for mothers to think of dieting or wanting to lose weight.

“In fact, one of the importance of breastfeeding is that it helps a woman to get back into shape healthily. The woman should eat well to enhance lactating, though the art of lactation is mostly stimulated by the reflex of suckling from the breast.

“The more the child suckles, the more the stimulation of the hormones to synthesise the production of breast milk,’’ she says.(NANFeatures)

**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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