Current realities in Nigeria necessitate a new approach to the issue of breastfeeding as well as infant and young child nutrition. Recent figures indicate poor Breastfeeding practices leading to malnutrition are too alarming to be ignored.
Fewer than three in 10 babies (NDHS2018) are exclusively breastfed for six months, which is far below the global target of 50 per cent. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life means that a baby receives only breastmilk—no water, infant formula, nor other liquids. Breastmilk contains all the water and nutrients a baby needs during the first six months of life—even in hot, dry climates.
The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months are significant.
It aids cognitive development, especially since mental faculties are developed in the early years of infancy. It also helps a child develop immunity against diseases that contribute to high infant mortality rates.
Optimal exclusive breastfeeding practices could prevent up to 103,742 child deaths annually in Nigeria, which could drastically reduce under-five deaths in the country, which are reported as 132 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to a report on the Cost of Not Breastfeeding by Alive and Thrive and UNICEF. It can also help prevent over 10 million cases of diarrhea and pneumonia amongst children. Exclusive breastfeeding can save up to N6.93 billion in health care system treatment costs related to inadequate breastfeeding and eliminate up to N11 billion spent by households annually on Breast Milk Substitutes. Many families in Nigeria could easily find better uses for the money they are spending on infant formulas.
In view of the enormous benefits individuals, families, communities and the country stand to derive from exclusive breastfeeding, there is an urgent need for governments at all levels in Nigeria to match words with action by stepping up awareness on exclusive breastfeeding, regulating practices that threaten adoption by mothers and following through with increased budgetary funding for infant and young child nutrition initiatives. Investing in breastfeeding benefits women and children and generates significant economic gains for communities and nations. An analysis by the World Bank found that “every N360 invested in supporting breastfeeding generates N12,631 in economic returns.”
Nigeria is making concerted efforts to increase exclusive breastfeeding but more needs to be done. Figures show that federal allocations directed at addressing infant and young child nutrition have always fallen far short of what is needed.
The National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition assumes that the federal government will allocate N3,603,450,000 annually for 2014 – 2018 for this purpose. However, budgetary allocations under the infant and young child nutrition interventions were 228.29 million in 2018, up from the 121 million allocated in 2017. Allocation in 2014 and 2016 were N73.64 million and N211.3 million, respectively, according to Budget Office of the Federation.
It is imperative for governments at all levels to do more through increased budgetary allocations, improving release of allocated resources as well as fiscal monitoring to ensure that interventions that reach the greatest number of mothers and provide an enabling environment in communities to improve breastfeeding are prioritized.
Priority attention should be placed on monitoring and enforcement of the Marketing of Infant and Young Children Food and Other Designated Products Regulations 2019 in line with the Abuja Breastfeeding Declaration.
This declaration calls for key actions including: the need to review the Nutrition policy and provide six months maternity leave; supportive workplace breastfeeding policies for nursing mothers as requested by the vast majority (72%) of working mothers surveyed in a 2019 National Maternity Entitlements Research conducted by the FMOH, Alive and Thrive and UNICEF; conducive workplace environments for mothers to breastfeed exclusively, which will increase the number of children’s lives saved.
Also, government at all levels should strengthen the capacity of the health system through adequate investments and initiatives to provide support for programs on Breastfeeding. Such programs include counseling of mothers, scaling up of the baby friendly hospital initiative and strengthening programmes that protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
We must do more to support breastfeeding in Nigeria! The benefits are simply too important to take for granted. State Governors and members of the National Assembly should increase budgetary allocations to programs that support breastfeeding and support laws that expand maternity protections.