More than five million newborns in Nigeria are deprived of essential nutrients and antibodies that protect them from disease and death as they are not being exclusively breastfed, said UNICEF on Wednesday, as it marks World Breastfeeding Week.Approximately seven million children are born in Nigeria every year and, according to the 2014 National Nutrition and Health Survey, only 25 percent are exclusively breastfed from zero to six months of age.
“We know that the pressure to give water to newborns in addition to breast milk is high. But the stomach of a baby is so small it can barely hold 60 milliliters of liquid and when it is filled with water, it leaves no room for breast milk and its life sustaining nutrients,” said Arjan de Wagt, UNICEF Nigeria Chief of Nutrition. “Babies who are fed nothing but breast milk from the moment they are born until they are six months old grow and develop better. Breast milk gives a child a head start in life and a chance to fight child malnutrition later in life.”
Nigeria is making progress in exclusive breastfeeding very slowly. Over ten years, Nigeria has increased its exclusive breastfeeding rate from 12 percent to only 25 percent. By comparison, in 1994, both Ghana and Nigeria had both exclusive breastfeeding rates of 7.4, but by 2013 Ghana had moved up to 63 percent.
Nigeria’s lack of progress in exclusive breastfeeding denies millions of newborns in Nigeria the benefits of breast milk. Research shows that an exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child and that breastfeeding drastically reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhea, two major child killer diseases.
The National Food and Nutrition policy (2014- 2019) has a strong exclusive breastfeeding component and while UNICEF has welcomed the policy, it urges the government of Nigeria to include a budget line for nutrition in the health sector budget and a timely release of budget for immediate programming.
UNICEF also commends the initiative of the wife of the president, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, that was announced in July to address child malnutrition and recommends that exclusive breastfeeding should be a strong component of her initiative.
“Lack of exclusive breastfeeding is implicated in the current high rate of child malnutrition in Nigeria,” noted Jean Gough, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria. “Exclusive breastfeeding is free and breast milk is readily available, so exclusive breastfeeding should be our first strategy in fighting child malnutrition,” she noted.