Andy Esiet, Calabar
As women show less concern on exclusive breastfeeding, Cross River State government is mulling plans to introduce six months maternity and some months of paternity leave for nursing mothers and their husbands in the state as it targets 80 percent uptake on breastfeeding in the state.
This position by the state is in line with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) target in ensuring that Nigeria meets the 50 percent standard set by the World Health Assembly to be achieved in 2025 and the SDG target for 2030.
The Pillar Today fndings in Calabar showed that most nursing mothers in the state do not breast feed as they complained that exclusive breastfeeding will sag their breast and their husbands will look the other way while others complained of not having enough time and assistance from their husbands.
Madam Akon Ekpe at the Maternity Clinic along Moore Road said, “I can only breast feed for three months because I have to go back to work.
“Besides my husband has been telling me that if my breast falls in this my young age (about 36), he will not like it. He will tell me he wants my breast to be firm and pointed”.
The Director General of the State primary Healthcare Development Agency (CRSPHCDA), Dr. Janet Ekpenyong in an interview raised concern with breastfeeding in the state saying, “as at 2019 we were just about 25 percent but as at last year, we had actually improved to about 40 percent of women breastfeeding their children. However, it’s been challenging because women always complain about lots of things that always stand as hindrance to them not breastfeeding.
“Most of them feel they don’t have enough maternity leave and time to spend at home. Some breastfeed exclusively for three months and after that they stop because they have to go to work. Some usually complain of how it is tiring or how the breast milk is not producing as it should, they feel the child is not getting enough and so they always try to augment or include giving formula and others, so those are some of the challenges we have. It has actually improved to about 40 percent and we are hoping that we will continue to sensitize our women because we always leverage on ante-natal classes and other platforms like when we have our health interventions. We still talk to women and encourage them to always exclusively breastfeed their children as the best form of feeding”.
She said, “we are actually advocating that maternity leave should be extended to six months for all the mothers. We also encourage that fathers should as well be given some paternity leave because we have actually seen how important it is for men to be actively involved in post-natal care or care of a newborn because we’ve heard situations where some men are really involved, supporting and encouraging their wives throughout and the women always come out very confident and very relaxed. Lots of people who are sometimes overwhelmed do not have any form of family support and so as a recommendation, we encourage that maternity leave should be extended to six months”.
Because of inadequate breastfeeding, Ekpenyong said, “we have always seen cases of children who probably do not get proper breastfeeding and sometimes they end up being malnourished and almost every other day we are getting cases of malnourished children especially with the pandemic because it has really made it worse. Sometimes you see stunted growth, they are really prone to different forms of infection but benefits of breastfeeding can also boost or help with immunity of a child.
“For us in primary healthcare agency, we try to create some awareness and sensitize our people on the need for breastfeeding and for us we have the opportunity because we get to interface with some of these women right from when the child is still in the womb and through our ante-natal classes, we have the opportunity to talk to the women and encourage them on the need to breastfeed. Also we leverage on opportunities such as when we have our Maternal Volunteer Health week and other health interventions where we get to interface with mothers, fathers and people in the communities. We use the opportunity to talk to them on the importance of breastfeeding and sometimes we bring out children who have been exclusively breastfed for them to see how their children can turnout when they do that.
“Apart from that, when we have outreaches, we have health workers visiting some of these women just to encourage them and we have influencers in the communities whom we also leverage on to see how they can also encourage women to breastfeed and because of that, when they eventually give birth, some of them actually go ahead to breastfeed and at the end they are happy because they bring back testimonies of how beneficial breastfeeding is and what it has done to their children as well as themselves. Most times I tell people I practice what I preach because I have two children that I did exclusive breastfeeding, so I have seen the benefits and I know how important it is. I can tell you my children don’t know what headache is, even when they were kids and took their vaccination, till now they don’t know what headache is”.
On possibility of hitting the United Nations requirement, the Director General said, “honestly, I will be very glad if we can achieve up to 80% uptake on breastfeeding in Cross River state because we know the importance of breastfeeding. We expect that we would have healthy children and for us to have healthy youths and adults, it starts from childhood and one of the best vaccines you can ever give to a child is breastfeeding as that would give them a very good start to life. So I’m hoping we can achieve at least 80% of exclusive breastfeeding for a start in Cross River state”.
Meanwhile the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has tasked Nigerian journalists to step up publicity and campaign to encourage breastfeeding among mothers as one out of eight children die before their 5th birthday in Nigeria.
Speaking at a one day breastfeeding week programme by UNICEF in collaboration with Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State in Enugu recently, the Enugu Field Office Communication Officer, Dr. Ijeoma Onuoha-Igwe said the essence of the programme was to engage and equip journalists from Enugu Field Office states with knowledge of exclusive breastfeeding practice promoting and encouraging progress among mothers.
Hence she charged journalists to be “committed to improved and frequent quality reportage of issues” concerning exclusive breastfeeding as this go along way in ensuring that Nigeria meets the 50 percent standard set by the World Health Assembly to be achieved in 2025 and the SDG target for 2030.
A joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom and made available to some journalists at the programme recently said, “in Nigeria, where one In eight children do not reach their 5th birthday and three out of 10 children are stunted, optimal breastfeeding practices are known to reduce neonatal and child morbidity and mortality rates as well as stunting education”.
They said, ” optimal nutrition provided by breastfeeding along with nurturing , care and stimulation strengthens a child’s brain development with positive impacts that endure over a life time”.
They added that, “available statistics in Nigeria reveal that the average duration of exclusive breastfeeding is approximately three months and only three out of every 10 children under six months of age were exclusively breastfed (29 percent).
“This is an improvement from 17 percent in 2013 to 29 percent in 2018. However, this still falls significantly below the target of 50 percent set by the World Health Assembly to be achieved in in 2025 and the SDG target for 2030. The percentage of children who were breastfed within one hour of birth (42 percent) remains less than 50 percent ” .
Delivering a paper at the programme, the UNICEF Enugu Nutrition Manager, Dr. Hanifa Namusoke, said journalists should encourage the campaign on breastfeeding to ensure that many mothers do exclusive breastfeeding for their children for at least six months.
She said mothers should be discouraged from feeding their babies with cow milk as it does not help in their growth and education “and there is need for sensitization in this regard for mothers to breast for six months all round…and women should breast feed longer in one breast at a time during breastfeeding before shifting to the second breast to ensure that the child gets the vital nutrients from the mother” .