President, Nigerian Society of Neonatal Medicine (NISONM), Dr Olukemi Tongo says that it is a disaster that 29 per cent of Nigerian infants are on exclusive breastfeeding in their first six months of life given the value of breastfeeding to nation building.
Dr Tongo, speaking at the commemoration of the 2022 world breastfeeding week at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said that it is illegal, unethical and wicked to deny a new baby breast milk in their first hour of life.
She stated that though breastfeeding does not require money per se for anybody as long as the woman is there and she has a breast, exclusively breastfeeding babies in their first six months of life in Nigeria is only 29 per cent.
According to her, “If anybody needs the breast, it is the babies. We don’t even have the money to buy breast milk substitutes, which are even not the best. It is a disaster at this point in our development.
“We need to move from 29 per cent exclusive breastfeeding rate; in fact, 50 per cent exclusive breastfeeding rate is the target by 2025. And it is not just in the first six months, after we start complementary feeding, we must continue to breastfeed till about two years or more.”
Dr Tongo said challenges of breastfeeding like cracked nipples or inverted nipples or inadequate milk production are also solved by continuing to breastfeed and urged for increased support from the government, health systems, workplace and communities to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding across different levels of society in the country.
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She declared that breastfeeding is key to sustainable development strategies post-pandemic as it improves nutrition, ensures food security and reduces inequalities between and within countries.
The paediatrician, however, urged the government and employers of labour to make the workplace conducive for breastfeeding mothers given that globally breastfeeding can prevent 823,000 child deaths and 20,000 maternal deaths annually.
Earlier, Assistant director of nursing, Mrs Kemi Bode-Oguntoke, stated that breastfeeding has benefits both for the mother and child, breast milk is a natural food for babies and for mothers to be able to feed on demand, they must master their baby’s cue for wanting to breastfeed.
Mrs Bode-Oguntoke, while noting that breastfeeding is one of the smartest investments a country can make to build its future prosperity, added that supporting women to initiate and maintain breastfeeding should start in pregnancy.