As Nigeria joins the global community to mark the 2022 World Breastfeeding Week starting tomorrow, PUNCH HealthWise delves into the difficulties women in Nigeria face to achieve exclusive breastfeeding by speaking with some mothers in Lagos. They share how they overcame challenges hindering the attainment of the gold standard of six months exclusive breastfeeding, ranging from poor institutional and family support, inadequate baby-friendly facilities, and lack of awareness, among others. ANGELA ONWUZOO reports
While some mothers see exclusive breastfeeding as a difficult exercise, to Hajia Sekinat Lawal, it is the best gift mothers can give to their children.
Sekinat, who exclusively breastfed her five children including a set of twins for six months, said with a supportive environment and determination, exclusive breastfeeding is less challenging.
According to her, a nursing mother should be encouraged by the gains her baby stands to get from exclusive breastfeeding rather than the discomfort she might go through during the exercise.
Sharing her experience with PUNCH Healthwise, Sekinat who is a journalist said her husband’s support and her determination to give her children the best start in life made the practice an exciting experience for her despite the demanding nature of her job.
“When we talk about exclusive breastfeeding, it’s the best gift we can give to our children and this is simply because when we breastfeed babies exclusively, we would have given them the best start in life because their immune system will be top-notch.
No regular hospital visits for exclusively breastfed babies
“There won’t be a situation of several visits to hospitals for such children except to take immunisations.
“You will not have to deal with the story of having children that are falling sick now and then aside from minor things that may occasionally come up
“Apart from exclusive breastfeeding also giving us as mothers the best shape after birth, our health would also benefit from it. You will thank God that you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby because it has so many benefits, even though there will be challenges.
“For instance, when I was breastfeeding my twins, I exclusively breastfed them for six months but it wasn’t easy. When I am going to the office then when I resume my maternity leave, I will have to express the breast milk into two breastfeeding bottles for them. This I know will be enough for them before I return from work in the afternoon. Expressing breast milk is usually not a tea party. It’s a whole lot of sacrifice. It is not easy especially if you are a working mother.”
“But doing exclusive breastfeeding is the best decision. I did not regret doing it for my five kids and I am reaping the benefits now. I have four girls and a boy and among them is a set of twins. I didn’t regret doing exclusive breastfeeding for six months for all of them and they are all doing great,” she added.
The World Health Organisation recommends mothers worldwide exclusively breastfeed infants for the child’s first six months to achieve optimal growth, development, and health.
Thereafter, WHO said, babies should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.
Celebrated on August 1-7 every year, World Breastfeeding Week is a global campaign to raise awareness and galvanise action on themes related to breastfeeding.
World Breastfeeding Week has been celebrated since 1992. It was established by the joint efforts of the WHO, UNICEF, and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.
The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2022 is “Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support”.
Early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth
The Federal Ministry of Health recommends early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond, with the introduction of appropriate complementary foods from six months.
Sekinat, a former chairman, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists, Lagos State chapter told our correspondent that though expressing breast milk for her twin babies was not an easy task, she was however committed to doing it for the optimal growth and development of her babies who are now doing very well in their tertiary education.
The mother of five recounted, “Honestly speaking, most of the time, I will have to rest before expressing the breast milk. I might start expressing breast milk around 5:A.M and if I notice that the two breasts are empty already, I will go and have a hot bath or take something hot either pap or tea so that the breast will be full again for easier milk expression for them. So, if one is not really determined and committed, one might not be able to do that.
My husband sacrificed his enjoyment of the breasts for our kids
“And for their dad, we have some men that will be saying what is all these, is the breasts for the kids alone or something?
“What I did was to educate their dad that this is like a sacrifice on our part for the kids. If we can do that, we will be spending less on hospital visits, treating infections, and ailments that will make children visit the doctor regularly and he agreed.
“We need to let daddies know that the babies cannot be on the breasts 24 hours. The time the daddies would need to enjoy the breasts would not be up to an hour or two which at that time, the baby/ babies might be sleeping.
After breastfeeding the babies, mothers should try and give daddies their own attention.”
The media professional noted that it was wrong for daddies to struggle over breasts with their babies, stressing that such an act could discourage mothers from embracing exclusive breastfeeding.
According to her, the breasts belong to babies during breastfeeding, stressing that husbands should support their wives and show understanding during the period of exclusive breastfeeding.
Continuing, she said, “So, basically, it is just a matter of understanding. We let our husbands know that the baby needs the breast more than the enjoyment daddy might think he has in it to take.
“Apart from the challenges coming from the fathers and the challenges of having to sit for long hours trying to express the milk, if you are doing exclusive breastfeeding, even at the place of work, you will not feel relaxed.
“This is because the breasts would still be in that biological state of reminding you that the baby wants to feed.
“You will always have a full breast that will be making you uncomfortable. You might be having pains, headaches and sometimes, I might need to go to the ladies and try to express the milk out so that I will feel relieved. Though it is not comfortable, I believe as mothers, we should be willing, ready, and committed to exclusive breastfeeding.
“And whatever challenge that comes our way as we do it, we should find a way round it. As mothers, we have to be the ones making the necessary sacrifices to make it work. You have to sacrifice your sleep and comfort.”
80,000 child death prevented annually in Nigeria
According to the FMOH, the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby cannot be over-emphasised.