Health experts have warned that there is a huge economic cost to not exclusively breastfeeding babies for the first six months of their lives.
According to the experts at an event in Abuja on Tuesday, inadequate breastfeeding costs the Nigerian economy an estimated $ 21 billion per year, or 4. 1 percent of the nation’s gross national income.
The event was organised by the Nigerian Ministry of Health in collaboration with its nutrition and health sector partners to commemorate the World Breastfeeding Week, which is celebrated every August 1 to 7.
The experts explained that women lose more financially, directly and indirectly by not exclusively breastfeeding their babies and saving them from malnutrition, diseases and death on the long run.
The theme for this year’s breastfeeding week, “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together,” was used to mobilise advocates, activists, decision makers, media and young people for long term partnership in protecting, promoting and supporting exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life without water.
Hajo Sani, representative of the wife of the Nigerian President, Aisha Buhari, said low awareness, poor living and working conditions, poor health and wrong perception of breastfeeding has been hindering more people from embracing the culture.
Ms. Sani urged government and employers in Nigeria to create breastfeeding rooms, arena and flexible working hours to assist mothers achieve exclusive six months breastfeeding.
She also called on the government to formulate and implement policies that will enable mothers achieve the feat.
“Sustaining Breastfeeding message anywhere anytime and anyhow will innovatively protect, promote and support the mothers/caregivers to optimal practices which will markedly improve maternal, newborn and child nutrition and health indies in Nigeria,” Adebimpe Adebiyi, the Director, Department of Family Health in the Ministry, said.
The director, who represented the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, said it is vital to promote infant and young child feeding practices that combat malnutrition and other related conditions that lead to increasing rate of maternal, infant and young child morbidity and mortality.
According to Mrs. Adebiyi, Nigeria is predominantly a breastfeeding nation with 97 percent compliance.
However, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding is still very low, she said.
The 2014 National Nutrition and Health Survey shows that only 25 percent of Nigerian mothers do exclusive breastfeeding with no form of solid, water or any other form of liquid in their first six months.
“Nigeria is joining the world to encourage unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding because 87 per cent of preventable death in infants under six months can be effectively averted, especially if breastfeeding practices are initiated within an hour from birth.
“Breast milk is the first and natural form of immunization for a child, as it reduces infant mortality associated with common childhood illnesses like diarrhoea or pneumonia and ensures quicker recovery from illnesses,” she said.
“The mother also benefits maximally in child spacing, reduction of ovarian and breast cancers, and ensuring rapid maternal weight loss after birth. It is also one of the most effective global services to curb malnutrition.”
UNICEF Country Representative, Mohammed Fall, also said it is important for Nigeria to improve on the level of exclusive breastfeeding because at least 5.4 million children each year miss out on its benefits, contributing to the country’s problem of chronic child malnutrition: 11 million children under the age of five are malnourished in Nigeria.
“The low rate of exclusive breastfeeding leads to more than 100,000 child deaths and translates into almost $12 billion in future economic losses for the country which is being incurred in terms of health facilities, hospital space, logistics, investments, overhead cost among others.
“The benefit of breastfeeding is not just for the individual family and children, but the entire economy. The World Bank’s new Investment framework on Nutrition notes that every dollar invested in promoting breastfeeding can generate a return of $35 in economic benefit”.
“With the cost associated with inadequate breastfeeding, the country stands at loss in terms of schooling, development, health cost and system, nutrition and this indirectly have an effect on the families, and as well and to forestall future problems, we need to implore people to embrace, support and promote the first six months exclusive breastfeeding,” he added.
Six benefits of exclusive breastfeeding
1. Breast milk contains all the nutrients and fluids a baby needs for the first six months of life.
2. Breast milk helps to prevent pneumonia and diarrhoea, two of the leading causes of death for children under five.
3. Babies who are breastfed are 14 times less likely to die than those who are not fed with breast milk.
4. Breast feeding within the first one hour of birth reduces incidence of death in new born babies. New born accounts for nearly half of all deaths of children under five.
5.Breastfeeding helps in the cognitive development of children, longer breastfeeding duration are associated with higher scores on intelligence score.
6. Breastfeeding helps reduce ovarian and breast cancer and diabetes in women.