Nursing Mothers Breastfeeding Babies

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has said that exclusive breastfeeding of at least six months of a child’s birth is a powerful life saver, describing it as critical to long term health and wellbeing of both mother and child.

Speaking at the zonal media dialogue on the forthcoming 2023 World Breastfeeding week and zero water campaign for the four states of Anambra, Benue, Cross River and Enugu, the nutrition specialist at the UNICEF Field office, Enugu, Mrs. Ngozi Onuora described as unfortunate, a situation whereby majority of nursing mothers do not optimally breastfeed their children.

According to her, only 38% of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months, adding that the laxity contributes to about 800,000 child deaths annually.

She said: “The practice of feeding babies extra water, in addition to breast milk, is common in Nigeria. This is harmful as extra water not only introduces illness- causing pathogens, but also reduces the child’s thirst and effective suckling.”

Onuora observed that over the years, the exclusive breastfeeding rate had shown only marginal increase from very low rate of two percent in 1990 to 17% in 2019 as reported by the Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey.

“The zero water campaign, therefore, promotes giving babies breast milk only on demand day and night and stopping the practice of giving water and other liquids and foods from the moment of birth through the first six months of life, so as to achieve the World Health Assembly global breastfeeding target of 50% by 2025”, she added.

The UNICEF Enugu Office Communications Officer, Dr. Ijeoma Onuora Ogwe urged the media to set agenda for zero water campaign on exclusive breastfeeding, arguing that every working nursing mother should enjoy six months of maternity leave with assurance of job security.

“Practicing breastfeeding at work makes societies work, as it provides vital health and nutritional benefits for children with positive lifelong impacts, building healthier populations and workforces for the future.

“Women should not have to choose between breastfeeding their children and their jobs because exclusive breastfeeding is possible regardless of workplace, sector or contract type.

“Also, effective maternity protection improves children’s and women’s health and increases breastfeeding.

“All women everywhere, no matter their work, should have at least six months paid maternity leave, paid time off for breastfeeding and flexible return to work options,” she said.