When infants are not well breastfed, their health and mental development are at stake. Exclusive breastfeeding is the act of giving infants only breast milk. No other liquid or solids are given-not even water-with the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines.
The extent of poor exclusive breastfeeding in Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Nigeria is very alarming. The local government is composed of so many autonomous communities. The reporter’s visit to three of the communities: Oso Edda, Owutu Edda and Nguzu Edda gave him a clear picture of what children are facing in the hands of their mothers.
When the reporter interviewed some mothers in Oso Edda and some communities in Afikpo South on why they do not practice exclusive breastfeeding, a petty trader who identified herself as Ifeoma said she is always busy with her business and working hard to raise money to take care of her family because her husband contribution is not enough to support the family.
Chinyere a rice farmer in Owutu said as a result of the hardship in the village, she does not practice exclusive breastfeeding. “I am always in the farm working hard so that during harvest, I will harvest plenty rice, sell and get enough money to contribute to the family upkeep. This is why I don’t have enough time to practice exclusive breastfeeding.”
A cook at a restaurant in Nguzu who identified herself as Ada said: “My baby is four mouths old I leave her with my younger sister to be taking care of her because of my work. I bought feeding bottle for the baby which my sister uses to take care of the baby when I am at work. We that work at the restaurant are not allowed to take our babies there because they don’t employ nursing mothers. But I needed a job to take care of my family so I just had to take it. That is why I don’t have the time to practice exclusive breastfeeding. But I give my baby breast in the morning before going to work and do the same when I close from work.”
Chiwendo a hairdresser in Nguzu Edda said she does not practice exclusive breastfeeding because her job hinders her from doing it and also the pains she feels on her breast.
An elderly woman in Oso Edda known as Mama Nkechi who spent most of her years in Lagos before relocating to her village Oso Edda said, “so many women in this village do not practice exclusive breastfeeding. The women don’t take good care of their new born babies the way they are actually supposed to do.”
“That is why many babies die in this community as a result lack of adequate care from their mothers and fathers as well. A woman in the community recently lost her baby as a result of infections the baby got from lack of exclusive breastfeeding, poor nutrition and health care,” she said.
Blessing Okafor a community health staff at the Primary Health Care Centre in Oso Edda said, “Since my two years in this place, I have seen many children below 6 years faced serious health challenges and malnutrition. In more critical cases, infants and very young children lose their lives as a result of lack of exclusive breastfeeding and malnutrition which place the babies and toddlers at risk of being infected with different kind of diseases.
“Breast milk contains antibodies and essential nutrients necessary for the promotion of health and adequate development of infants and very young children.
“Exclusive breastfeeding has been shown to protect infants from several morbidities in infancy and early childhood including acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and other gastrointestinal conditions”, she said.
The effect of poor exclusive breastfeeding is very obvious in Afikpo South as many children always get sick and are moderately or severely underweight with mental retardation and poor mental development.
Breastfeeding is a practice embraced by Nigerian mothers since almost every newborn is breastfed. However, Exclusive Breastfeeding is not well practiced for several reasons which include misconception about the term and knowledge about the practice.
If this issue must be effectively tackled, more and intensive sensitization on exclusive breastfeeding should be carried out in Afikpo South and other communities in Nigeria where the practice is still poor.