In the fight against malnutrition, breast sucking and massage at the pre and post-natal stage of pregnancy is the ‘new kid’ on the block. With continuous engagement, insufficient breast milk formulation for exclusive breast feeding will belong to the past. Kuni Tyessi writes
The class erupted in a thunderous laughter when the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) nutrition specialist, Ms Phelomena Irene had revealed what the participants had considered to be funny, embarrassing, best imagined and for others, best experienced and yet, an idea which was new and knowledgeable and which happened to be the crux for why they had gathered.
As a result of the dynamism in knowledge which evolves in all spheres of life and which had also affected the techniques required in breast milk formulation for the purpose of exclusively breast feeding an infant, especially in the first 1,000 days of its existence, Irene had revealed that ‘breast stimulation’ was the key to addressing every challenge that bothered on inadequate breast milk in terms of the quantity produced by a woman’s body, or no milk at all as was the case with some women after delivery.
Her listeners, a group of journalists from different media houses who had converged in Yola, the Adamawa state capital, were all adults and most of them married, were at a media dialogue on child malnutrition with the theme ‘Investing in child malnutrition for the future’ and for emphasis, the theme was laced with a hash tag that read #stopchildmalnutritionnigeria.
Irene further explained that her claims were based on research, according to best practices and global standards and the statistics afterwards were overwhelmingly positive. She said breast milk which is cheap, economical, divinely produced, highly nutritious and a booster of child immunity from diseases was all a child needed for the first six months of life and subsequently with other foods for the following 18 months. She said after this period must have elapsed which is expected to be two years, breast milk might have been withdrawn while other nutritious foods, in their appropriate quantity were expected to take the centre stage towards having a healthy and balanced child.
The participants in their laughter began to ask questions out of curiosity and naughtiness. They didn’t expect that issues that dealt with sexuality which is viewed as private and should be discussed in low tones can relate with milk formulation and serve as antidote to insufficient breast milk for a baby. The participants, about 45 in number, became noisy because their fancy had been tickled and their imagination let loose.
But come to think of it: the breasts have been given to women by nature in order to enhance their physical appearance which is one of the characteristics that distinguishes them from men. Sexually, it is meant to give pleasure to both parties and for its physiological make-up, it is meant to produce milk for the infant as well.
Irene who was now like a story teller in moonlight, further seized the opportunity to feed the itching ears of the participants with what was most beneficial to children at infancy. While stating that breast pump after delivery can be helpful in stimulating the breasts to produce enough milk which if taken sufficiently reduces the risk of infant mortality, statistics being revealed by the National Policy on Food and Nutrition in Nigeria shows that “about 23 per cent of newborns in Nigeria receive breast milk within one hour of birth, whilst the exclusive breast feeding rate is 17 per cent.
Also, “During the transition period from six to nine months, when a child is expected to receive a mix of breast milk and complementary food, only 10 per cent of children six to 23 months were fed in accordance with infant and young child feeding recommendations.”
She said frequent massage of the breast at the pre-natal period was of utmost importance as every part of the human body has been wired to the brain which serves as the central power plant sending signals and feelings to the entire part of the body.
While stating that the fight against malnutrition and the crusade on breast milk must be fought and won respectively, the specialist said men must play supportive roles by providing the right kinds of food which must be taken in the right proportion for the enrichment of breast milk and should also see the need in assisting their wives in breast stimulation. She said the men should suck the nipples and also massage the breasts. There was another rapturous laughter, the type from teenagers being taught sex education in school or reproduction in a biology class.
Irene, like an old woman who had ben saddled with the responsibility of character moulding and in ensuring that like folklore, what she had known, tested and trusted was carefully passed on from generation to generation , wouldn’t share in the bout of laughter as the case of malnutrition cannot be over emphasised, and due to poor breast feeding which has continued to expose children to wasting, stunting and underweight in Nigeria and with the North-east and North-west taking the lead in several disturbing cases. However, she was happy that the message had been passed and will go viral with the help of the participants.
She said: “Mothers have to be trained to know at what stage to start stimulating their breasts in preparation for breast feeding when the baby arrives. Through stimulation, the brain is informed and it in return, informs the breast to get set for milk production. Placement of the child on the breast is also another key factor which mothers must be taught.”
“It is a continuous process and mothers must never give up in the guise that the breast milk isn’t coming. With continuous sucking and massage, which should be done before and after delivery, the breast milk is bound to come. It is hard work because it is not easy. However, once a mother gets it right, the child will be free from all childhood diseases associated with malnutrition.”
“That is not all. The cognitive and mental ability of the child is also developed as a result of the exclusive breast milk for six months, as this will give the child a high intelligent quotient with the ability of being above average in assimilation and understanding,” she said.
Angela, one of the brilliant and out-spoken participants during the ‘story telling’ session decided to ask a question just like a child who wanted to tell the morals and lessons learnt from the story. Like a doubting Thomas, she sought to know why expectant mothers were seldomly told about the ‘new discovery’. She emphasised that as important as the stimulation process is in breast milk formation, those who were expected to know, didn’t know after all.
The other participants, mostly the females who had experienced anti-natal in the past, all agreed with her claims and observations. It was disturbing and alarming that midwives and caregivers from the primary health institutions to the tertiary, as well as in the public and private health sectors didn’t know about the efficacy of breast stimulation for milk formulation as the answer to inadequate breast milk for the fight against malnutrition. With this ignorance, they never enlightened their patients.
“Yes, you are right” said Irene.”Many of the midwives and health personnel hardly know this and to be fair to them, it isn’t their fault” she added.
“Then whose fault is it?” Some of the participants quarried in unison.”It is a systemic failure. The medical curriculum that deals with nutrition in higher institutions of learning are hardly reviewed and as the world is evolving, so is knowledge increasing. The midwives cannot give what they do not have because they were not taught in school,” she answered.
Irene further debunked the belief that large-breasted women always had challenges in producing sufficient milk compared to women with smaller breasts. She said the belief is a myth and didn’t hold water as the natural roles of breasts, if fully utilised have great potentials in solving the case of malnutrition and in increasing the breast-feeding rate from below 20 per cent to a pass mark.
At the end of the session which lasted for over an hour, every participant who had listened with undivided attention was thankful for the reliable information and increase in knowledge.
Above all, both parties were excited that the ultimate beneficiary of breasts stimulation, the child, will live above malnutrition and fulfill destiny.
With this, Nigeria’s silent crisis in the guise of malnutrition will begin to give way for healthy children with sound minds and active brains who will in turn make society what it is expected to be and for the good of all.