The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), in a statement to mark World Breastfeeding Week that ends this Friday, urged African governments to find innovative solutions to promote women’s access to breastfeeding counselling which is a critical component of breastfeeding support.
According to the two global bodies, breastfeeding is a critical component in the elimination of maternal deaths in the continent. WHO further stated that breastfeeding also prevents postpartum bleeding in mothers, supports child spacing and lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and early return to pre-pregnancy body weight.
The two international bodies noted that breastmilk saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood illnesses.
The health ministry in Nigeria further corroborates this view by revealing that not fewer than 20,000 maternal deaths could be prevented yearly in the country if optimal breastfeeding is pursued.
Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, at a briefing in Abuja to commemorate the World Breastfeeding Day, said Nigeria has, over the years, joined more than 170 countries to commemorate the World Breastfeeding Week. He explained that the purpose is to create awareness and generate support for improved breastfeeding practices for good health and well-being outcomes for infants.
According to the health minister, “The theme of this year’s celebration is, ‘Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet.’ It focuses on the impact of proper infant feeding on the environment, by garnering support for breastfeeding for the health of people and planet. Breastfeeding is naturally environmentally friendly since it does not draw on any resources or create environmental pollution. In contrast to formula feeding, breast milk is a naturally-renewable, requires no disposal of packaging and its production does not increase our carbon footprint”.
The minister, however, decried the low level of breastfeeding practices in Nigeria, as only 42 per cent of children are put to the breast within 1 hour of birth and the proportion of children 0 to 6 months who are exclusively breastfed are a mere 29 percent. “Breastfeeding also provides health benefits to mothers, by helping to prevent postpartum bleeding, support child spacing, lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and earlier return to pre-pregnancy body weight. An estimated 20,000 maternal deaths could be prevented annually if optimal breastfeeding were practised,” he said.