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Exclusive breastfeeding, key to improved child nutrition

Receiving proper nutrition during the first two years of life is vital for the healthy growth and development of every child. It has been particularly noted that healthy height and stature at two years is the best predictor of educational and economic success. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months has many benefits for the infant and mother. Chief among these is protection against gastrointestinal infections which is observed not only in developing but also industrialized countries. Early initiation of breastfeeding, within 1 hour of birth, protects the newborn from acquiring infections and reduces newborn mortality. The risk of mortality due to diarrhoea and other infections can increase in infants who are either partially breastfed or not breastfed at all. Breast-milk is also an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged 6–23 months. It can provide half or more of a child’s energy needs between the ages of 6 and 12 months, and one third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months. Breast-milk is also a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness, and reduces mortality among children who are malnourished. Children and adolescents who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. Additionally, they perform better on intelligence tests and have higher school attendance. Breastfeeding is associated with higher income in adult life. Improving child development and reducing health costs results in economic gains for individual families as well as at the national level. Longer durations of breastfeeding also contribute to the health and well-being of mothers: it reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer and helps space pregnancies–exclusive breastfeeding of babies under 6 months has a hormonal effect which often induces a lack of menstruation. This is a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control known as the Lactation Amenorrhoea Method. However, in-spite of these benefits, exclusive breast feeding rates has remain low most especially in Nigeria leading to increase rate in Malnutrition and death amongst children. According to the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, the Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF) rate has shown only marginal increase from the very low rate of 2% in 1990 to 17% in 2013; and the current rate is 25% as reported in the 2014 National Nutrition and Health Surveys (NNHS). He said: “The National Policy on Infant and Young Child Feeding describes exclusive breastfeeding as giving infants only breast milk in the first six months of life; no other liquids, drinks, semi-solids or solids, and not even-water except oral rehydration solution or drops/ syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines as prescribed by the physician. “The benefits of unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding practices as initiated within an hour from birth results in ample milk production to sustain the infants; (except for a few medical conditions), lead to 87% preventable deaths in infants younger than 6 months (2016 Lancet series on Breastfeeding), reduces infant mortality associated with common childhood illnesses like diarrhoea or pneumonia and ensures quicker recovery from illnesses. “The mother also benefits maximally in child spacing, reduction of ovarian and breast cancers, and ensuring rapid maternal weight loss after birth,” the minister said. Also, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had disclosed that good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival, health and development for any nation and that well-nourished children were better able to grow and contribute to their communities. Speaking during a presentation at the Media dialogue with Journalists and interface with OAPs on Child Malnutrition in the Northeast organised by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), and Child Rights Information Bureau of the Federal Ministry of information and Culture in Yola, Adamawa State, a nutrition Consultant, Dr. Davis Bamidele Omotola said that the first 1000 days in the life of every child is very crucial. “That is from the day the child was conceived to when he is 2 years”. Dr. Omotola who Spoke on the topic “Child malnutrition and the emergency in northeast Nigeria,” lamented that child malnutrition is silently killing hundreds of under-age children in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Although the nutrition consultant agreed that the challenge is also recorded across the country, he added that the 2018 Nigeria Nutrition Health Survey (NNHS) had revealed that the lives of over 2.6 million children, under the ages of five, were threatened by malnutrition in Nigeria, and that the North East region in particular accounts for over 900, 000 of the affected children. The report also revealed that over 10 million Nigerian children are stunted. A breakdown of the figure indicated that 42.8 per cent of the children in North East apart from being stunted, risk death by malnutrition if urgent care is not received. It also revealed that 29.7 per cent of children in the North Central, 20.8 per cent in South West, 20.4 per cent in the South-South and 17.2 per cent of children in the South East states are stunted. UNICEF was convinced that malnutrition might be strongly responsible for the poor development of the affected children, resulting in a high number of out-of-school children and other poor health records in northern Nigeria. It said the situation had assumed emergency dimension. It requires the urgent attention of the Nigerian government, and other local and international donor agencies to salvage the posterity of children in North East children. Omotola regretted that child malnutrition has been prevalent in the northern states in spite of efforts by stakeholders to change the narrative. He admitted that although malnutrition before now was a big problem in North East, the Boko Haram insurgency had worsened it. And the result is a significant increase in figures of malnourished children. He challenged state and local government’s authorities, traditional and religious leaders to intensify the campaign to educate and sensitise women at the grassroots on the essence of quality nutrition for the quality of life. Good nutrition during the 1,000-day period between the start of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday is critical to the future health, wellbeing and success of her child. The right nutrition during this window can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and rise out of poverty. It also benefits society, by boosting productivity and improving economic prospects for families and communities. Malnutrition is an underlying cause of 2.6 million child deaths each year. 1 Million more children survive, but suffer lifelong physical and cognitive impairments because they did not get the nutrients they needed early in their lives when their growing bodies and minds were most vulnerable. When children start their lives malnourished, the negative effects are largely irreversible. A malnourished child is up to 10 times as likely to die from an easily preventable or treatable disease as a well-nourished child. Also, a chronically malnourished child is more vulnerable to acute malnutrition during food shortages, economic crises and other emergencies. Doosuur Iwambe – Abuja

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