The Federal Minister of Health (FMoH) has called on Nigerians to step up breastfeeding-friendly environments for mothers and babies in the country.
Speaking at the flag-off of the 2022 World Breastfeeding Week in Abuja today (August 1, 2022), the Minister of State for Health, Hon. Joseph said this year’s theme “Step up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support” focused on strengthening the capacity of actors involved in the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding across different levels of society. He said these actors included governments, health systems, workplaces and communities. Over the years, evidence has shown that women need effective support – both to initiate and sustain breastfeeding.
For over two decades, Nigeria has joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Breastfeeding Week, which is a weeklong event to create awareness and generate support to improve breastfeeding practices for good health and wellbeing outcomes for infants, young children and mothers.
However, many of the actors lack the necessary knowledge, attitudes and skills to support these women. Thus, there is a need to strengthen the capacity of all actors across the different levels to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
Ekumankama said the importance of breastfeeding cannot be overemphasised. “It is the foundation of child survival, health, growth and development, stressing that it provides every child with the best possible start in life.
“It delivers health, nutritional and emotional benefits to both mother and child. It also forms part of a sustainable food system.
“Breastfed babies have stronger immunity, reduced risk of infections and many childhood illnesses, and may also have longer-term health benefits including reduced risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence.”
According to the minister, studies have shown that obesity rates are 15-30 per cent lower in breastfed babies compared to formula-fed babies.
Ekumankama said about 80,000 child deaths were reported to be prevented annually when optimal breastfeeding was practised and reasoned that mothers also benefit enormously from breastfeeding.
“It helps to prevent post-partum bleeding and lowers a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
“It can even reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and it lessens the severity of postpartum depression,” he explained.
He said that the global breastfeeding report highlights remarkable new evidence on the health and economic benefits of breastfeeding; reiterating the importance of breastfeeding as a fundamental driver in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The minister said that inadequate feeding practices and malnutrition contribute to over 50 per cent of under-five children’s mortality with 2/3 of these deaths occurring in the first year of life closely related to poor breastfeeding practices.
“As a nation, breastfeeding is one of the smartest investments we can make towards human capital development. It offers children unparalleled health and brain-building benefits.
“It has the power to save the lives of women and children throughout the country and the power to help our national economy to grow through lower health care costs and a smarter workforce.
“We aim to reach the 2025 World Health Assembly target of raising the rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50 per cent.
“We recommend early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond, with the introduction of nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods from six months,” he said.
According to him, the FMOH through the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other stakeholders will continue to enforce the code for the marketing of breast milk substitutes (BMS) to address threats that unwholesome marketing poses to optimal breastfeeding practice in Nigeria.
He said that this is fundamental to protecting the public and healthcare staff from inappropriate marketing by infant formula companies.
Ekumankama said the entire support system, particularly healthcare staff that were in contact with breastfeeding mothers, needed to understand the code and their role in its implementation.
“Without such knowledge, they are vulnerable to direct and indirect marketing,” he said.
The minister said that government, through the ministry would continue to invest in consistent training programmes for different levels of health professionals – doctors, nurses, midwives, community health workers and others.
“This is because health professionals play a critical role in supporting women to breastfeed, and to do this effectively they need appropriate knowledge, such as knowledge of the health outcomes associated with different methods of infant feeding and the physiological process of lactation, combined with positive, non-judgmental attitudes and effective communication and practical support skills,” he explained.