By SADIQ ABUBAKAR, Maiduguri –
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says about 58 per cent of children in Borno State and 75 per cent of children in Yobe State lack exclusive breastfeeding.
UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Northeast Nigeria , Phuong T. Nguyen, stated this on Monday in Maiduguri during an event to commemorate 2023 World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), with the theme: “Enabling Breastfeeding: Making a difference for Working Parents”.
Nguyen, who described the theme as apt, noted that the week is aimed at highlighting some of the most fundamental threats to child survival, nutrition and health.
She said: “In Borno State, only 53 per cent enjoy early initiation of breastfeeding, that is latching within the first hour of birth, while only 46 per cent children in Yobe State have the head start that early initiation of breastfeeding provides.
“In Borno State, over 58 per cent of newborns are not exclusively breastfed for six months, while over 75 per cent of children in Yobe State do not have the advantage of exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
“As I speak, too many newborns are missing out on the advantages of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding in their first six months of life. This is unacceptable. Early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding with zero water for six months are child protection measures which contribute greatly to their wellbeing and set them up for higher achievements in life.
“We must therefore improve sensitization and enlightenment on the benefits of early initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding in communities and health facilities.
“We must initiate policies that support women, especially displaced mothers to sustain exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months. We must work with influential personalities, including religious and traditional leaders, men and women groups to promote the benefits of early initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding.
According to her, “relevant messages must be broadcast in local languages on all available channels to ensure that the advantages of early initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding reach every community.
“In health facilities, new mothers must be supported to initiate breastfeeding in the first hour of life. Health workers must be trained and retrained to support new mothers. Family and community structures must also support new mothers to imbibe best practices of exclusive breastfeeding.
She said: “UNICEF has been working with governments across northeast Nigeria to protect the wellbeing of children”.
Ms. Nguyen, therefore, called on the government of Borno and Yobe states to review the maternity protection policy and adopt the extended six months paid maternity leave to working mothers and provide baby creches in all offices to ensure that working mothers in the government and in private sectors breastfeed their infants for six months.
She also assured that UNICEF will continue to advocate for the wellbeing of newborns and boys and girls affected by conflict in Nigeria.
” I invite you, gentlemen of the press to join us in this noble campaign”, stressing that, children in north-east Nigeria are some of the most disadvantaged children in the world.
” From conception to adulthood, children in this region face daunting nutrition challenges which could lead to serious and permanent deficits in their developmental attainment.
“For newborns, there is evidence that immediate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the six months is a nutritional magic bullet that protects them from opportunistic infections and helps to build their fragile immunity. Breast milk is a naturally ideal food for newborns and infants that gives them a head start in their future development and growth.
“Early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding with zero water for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond are important links in one nutritional chain that must remain unbroken to deliver full benefits.
“They are all linked and together, they confer formidable protection from infections, reduce infant mortality, facilitate bonding between mothers and newborns and lay a foundation for brain and physical development,” Phuong said.