70 per cent Nigerian infants denied exclusive breastfeeding- WHO, UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organisation have said over 70% of infants in Nigeria are denied exclusive breastfeeding.

The organisations made this known in a joint press statement in commemoration of the World Breastfeeding Week on Monday.

The 2022 World Breastfeeding Week is themed ‘Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support.’

According to them, the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Nigeria is 29 per cent.

They, however, call on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings.

“During emergencies, including those in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children. It offers a powerful line of defense against disease and all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting.

“In Nigeria, the Exclusive Breastfeeding rate is 29 percent, meaning that over 70 percent of infants in Nigeria are denied the aforementioned benefits of breast milk in their formative years. Only 9 percent of organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, indicating that mothers lack the enabling environment to optimally breastfeed their babies. The results are high stunting rates of 37 percent of children Under-5, of which 21 percent are severe, and wasting among children under 5 years of age (7 percent). They continue to present severe consequences for the child.

“Breastfeeding also acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses.

“Yet the emotional distress, physical exhaustion, lack of space and privacy, and poor sanitation experienced by mothers in emergency settings mean that many babies are missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding to help them survive.

“Fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death. And only 44 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50 per cent by 2025.

“Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding is more important than ever, not just for protecting our planet as the ultimate natural, sustainable, first food system, but also for the survival, growth, and development of millions of infants,” the statement read in part.

The UNICEF and the WHO urged governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to step up efforts to prioritise investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts.

“Equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed.

“Protect caregivers and health care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings.

“Implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space, and support they need to breastfeed,” they said.

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