Nutritionist harps on importance of exclusive breastfeeding

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The Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health,Dr Chris Isokpunwu, says exclusive breastfeeding saves lives, boosts economy and contributes to better health outcomes for women and children.

Isokpunwu said this on the sideline of the Ministerial Press briefing/launch of the 2018 World Breastfeeding Week WBW) and High Level Policy Dialogue on Breastfeeding, in Abuja.

Isokpunwu said that the Abuja breastfeeding declaration recognized that breastfeeding provides numerous health and economic benefits.

“Increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates can avert 100,000 infant deaths annually in Nigeria and add more than 150 million dollars to the Nigerian economy each year.

“It is a fundamental driver in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and its initiation in the 30 minutes of birth reduces neonatal mortality.

“It can protect children against infection and promote healthy development and achievement later in life and it also has positive health benefits for mothers in the immediate post-natal period and longer term.”

The nutritionist emphasized the importance of early initiation, exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding to the health of mothers, children and the economy.

According to him, Nigeria is a breastfeeding nation because almost all women in the country breastfeed their children.

However, she said that the challenge remained achieving exclusive breastfeeding, although progress was being paid in that regard.

“In 1990, no woman knew about exclusive breastfeeding. However, between 1990 and 1999, it changed from 0.4 per cent to 8.2 per cent and thereafter to 17.2 per cent, which occurred through the introduction of baby friendly initiative by the ministry of health.

“But today, only about 23.7 per cent of women are aware of exclusive breastfeeding in the country.

“While early initiation of breastfeeding has remained consistently about one in three women between 1990 and today, thus it increased to 38 per cent and later dropped to 33 per cent.”

Isokpunwu stated that averagely, women breastfeed their babies for only 19 months while most of them gave babies water alongside breast milk in the first six months of life.

He listed some determinants of breastfeeding to include education, economic status and place of residence.

He said that exclusive breastfeeding rates were higher in the urban areas than rural areas, higher among the rich than the poor and better educated women than those without education.

The expert also noted that the duration of breastfeeding was longer among women in rural areas, the poor and the non-educated and shorter among the rich and urban dwellers.

Isokpunwu further stated that the Ministry of Health had over the years introduced initiatives to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in the country.

According to him, part of the initiatives include increase in maternity leave for public servants from 12 to 16 weeks while discussions are ongoing with Ministry of Labour to increase it to 18 weeks.

L.NASIR