By Amby Uneze
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have created an opportunity for mothers to sustain exclusive breastfeeding on new born babies.
The world body stated this in a message to mark the 2020 World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) which is slated all over the world from August 1 to 7 each year.
This year’s theme is “Supporting Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet”.
The call by UNICEF came on the heels of its joint statement with the World Health Organization (WHO) made available to newsmen by UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, urging governments to evolve innovative solutions to protect and promote women’s access to breastfeeding counseling which it said is a critical component of breastfeeding support.
UNICEF noted that breastfeeding not only saves children’s lives, as it provides antidotes that give babies a healthy boost, but also protect them against many childhood illnesses.
According to the UNICEF representative in Nigeria, while researchers continue to test breast milk from mothers with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, the organization stated that current evidence indicate that it is unlikely that the pandemic would be transmitted through breastfeeding.
He said: “The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic like most emergencies leaves families with children in an extremely vulnerable position and given the present lack of evidence that transmission of the virus could occur through breast milk, we recommend that mothers should be encouraged to initiate and to continue to breastfeed their babies while observing good hygiene practices.”
According to Hawkins, the two World bodies (UNICEF and WHO) recommend that babies be fed only with breast milk for their first six months, after which they should continue breastfeeding as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods until two years of age or beyond.
Cautioning that breast milk substitutes such as infant formula, other milk products and beverages not only contribute negatively to the health and development of the child, but also to environmental degradation and climate change.
UNICEF and WHO also took exception to the aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes, which it said is a major barrier to improving newborn and child health.
Hawkins explained that UNICEF charged relevant agencies to strictly enforce adherence to the National Regulation on the code of marketing of breast milk substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions by stopping the unwholesome marketing of breast milk substitutes.
“Through strengthened policy provisions and increased investment for breastfeeding, we can ensure that mothers in Nigeria are empowered to breastfeed their babies,” Hawkins stated, adding that breast feeding still remains the safest during and after the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic.
Unveiling this year’s theme in Imo State, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Damaris Osunkwo, noted that the malnutrition situation in the state is alarming due to mothers’ preference to feed their babies with factory produced substance.
According to her, the multiple indicator cluster survey (MICS) in the state indicated that 50 per cent of infant and under-five mortality rates are caused by malnutrition.
She urged the state House of Assembly to create the enabling environment through enacting relevant laws to increase paid maternity leave for working mothers to six months, including 10 days paternity leave for fathers.