The United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) says over 5 million newborns in Nigeria do not get the essential nutrients and antibodies that exclusively breastfeeding provides.
UNICEF said “approximately 7 million children are born in Nigeria every year and, according to the 2014 National Nutrition and Health Survey, only 25 per cent are exclusively breastfed from 0-6 months of age.”
The organisation said it is important complement water with breast milk in the first six months of life as baby’s stomach is so small and can barely hold 60 millilitres of liquid.
“The stomach of a baby is so small it can barely hold 60 millilitres of liquid and when it is filled with water, it leaves no room for breast milk and its life sustaining nutrients,” said Arjan de Wagt, UNICEF Nigeria’s chief of nutrition.
“Babies who are fed nothing but breastmilk from the moment they are born until they are six months old grow and develop better. Breast milk gives a child a head start in life and a chance to fight child malnutrition later in life.”
UNICEF lamented Nigeria’s slow progress in exclusive breastfeeding saying in a decade, the country has increased its breastfeeding rate from 12 per cent to 25 per ccent.
Ghana on the other hand has a breastfeeding rate of 25 per cent.
The organisation said the “exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child and that breastfeeding drastically reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea; two major child killer diseases.”
“Lack of exclusive breastfeeding is implicated in the current high rate of child malnutrition in Nigeria,” observed Jean Gough, UNICEF representative in Nigeria.
“Exclusive breastfeeding is free and breast milk is readily available, so exclusive breastfeeding should be our first strategy in fighting child malnutrition.”