Accessibility links

Breaking News

Nigerian Health Experts Laud Long-Term Breastfeeding

FILE - Victoria Yillia feeds her newborn son Barnabas outsider her home in Kenema, on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone on Aug. 16, 2015.

ABUJA — As World Breastfeeding Week was commemorated, health experts in Nigeria say long-term breastfeeding has enormous health benefits on working mothers and their new born.

Nigeria 's ministry of health recommends the early start of breastfeeding within one hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

Dr. Abdullahi Musa, chief registrar in the Department of Family Health at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria, Kaduna State, told VOA that exclusive breastfeeding by working mothers have been on the decline.

"The reasons are not far-fetched: working mothers want to keep their work pace and earn money. As a result of that, they resort to infant formulas for their babies while they focus on their work so that they can make money at the end of the month," Musa said.

This year's theme is focused on support for working mothers. Health experts say that means extending maternity leave up to six months to provide more bonding between the mother and her newborn.

Musa maintains that breast milk should be the baby's main source of nutrition for the first year of life. Children who are fed only breast milk get sick less often than babies who eat other foods.

He says not not using the mother's milk should be discouraged.

"There are still women out there without any form of health issue that choose not to breastfeed their babies. This might be as a result of their cultural beliefs or personal beliefs. Some believe that breastfeeding their babies will result in their breast sagging, and they will not be able to be in form," he said.

The WHO says millions of children who miss out on the benefits of breastfeeding are at risk of stunting and wasting. It warned that undernutrition was associated “with 2.7 million or 45% child deaths annually.”

Recalling her own experience, a working mother, Esther Ojo says it was difficult combining work and breastfeeding.

"I had to work with my baby when he was just four months old. I resumed and I always have to be with him," Ojo said, adding, "It was difficult for me to express breast milk and leave for him because of the hours that I had to be at work."

The World Health Organization and the United Nations' children's agency, UNICEF, agree that greater breastfeeding support in workplaces would boost global breastfeeding rates.

In marking the week, they urged governments to ensure that all mothers, even those who work in the informal sector, have access to at least 18 weeks of paid maternity leave.

The agencies called for new mothers to be given regular breaks in the workplace, so the moms can continue to breastfeed their children once they return to work.

Banker and working mother Chioma Chinedu has a four-month-old baby.

She acknowledges that it is challenging for her to exclusively breastfeed.

"It's not a good one at all, I'm not enjoying it, and I feel the system is not being kind to our children, our new born, because if you will tell a working mum to resume work after three months, what about the child ? You don't think about the child, what happens to the child by that three months, and the government is preaching exclusive breastfeeding everywhere you go," she said.

VOA's Lisa Schlein contributed to this report.