Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A Mother's Story in Nigeria: Breastfeeding Saves Lives

February 28, 2013

A member of the Social Good Moms, Jayne Whyte is a maternal health and breastfeeding advocate based in Abuja, Nigeria. This is an original post from her personal blog.

As a maternal and child health blogger, I have always supported and shared information on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding in the first hour of life and in the first six months of life to both mother and child, but now I will be doing much more. I will be sharing my story with you and will also want you to take action. It is no news that breastfeeding is critical to preventing malnutrition and saving children’s lives in the developing world. Breastfeeding immediately after birth could help save 830,000 newborn babies from dying a year, and exclusive breastfeeding for six months could save even more babies and children.

A baby dies every 30 seconds for lack of protection breastfeeding provides against malnutrition and deadly diseases. Statistics from a recent publication (Saving Newborn Lives in Nigeria, 2011) have shown that Nigeria is amongst the countries with lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in the world at 16.4% in infants below 6 months. Only 38% of newborns are breastfed within one hour of birth with 41% of children under-five, chronically malnourished, and 23% of children suffer severe stunting

According to reports, there are four major barriers to breastfeeding;

  • Community and Cultural barriers
  • Global Health Worker Shortage
  • Lack of Maternity Legislation
  • Aggressive Marketing of Breast milk substitute

When I had Trinity (5) and Israel (3), I was lucky to have some of the best nurses and midwives at my side. During my ante-natal visits, I asked questions on breastfeeding and they were always ready to help me with answers to my questions. They taught me how to prepare the nipples before delivery and when I did give birth; both births were caesarean sections because they weighed 4.5kg and 4.9kg respectively, the midwives were very patient and understanding, encouraging me to use pillows to support my stitched tummy and the baby. It was a beautiful experience and I have no regrets whatsoever. I was lucky to have skilled midwives but millions of women are not so lucky. Health centers are short staffed and women are not supported to breastfeed soon after delivery.

With my husband's support, I was also lucky to be a 'stay home' mom at those times so, I breastfed my children as long as I could but there are so many women who want to continue breastfeeding after three months (which is the stipulated time for maternity leave in Nigeria) but they can't exclusively breastfeed because their work places lack breastfeeding rooms for nursing mothers. It has been proven that children’s first 1,000 days set the stage for the rest of their lives. Babies who don’t receive the nutrients they need during this critical time can face a lifetime of challenges and have lower earning potential. World-renowned economists say improving child nutrition boosts the local economy and lowers the health care costs. Well-nourished children are healthier and more productive throughout their lifetime.

As a mom blogger and an advocate for breastfeeding, I think empowering women with the basic knowledge of breastfeeding is important. Providing skilled health workers who are being trained and re-trained on breastfeeding in communities and a legislation that will include and support the internationally recommended minimum 14-18 weeks maternity leave for women will not only save the lives of women and children but will increase the productivity of its citizens. Aggressive marketing of breast milk substitute should be controlled and there should be laws against using health workers to promote a brand of breast milk substitutes.

I recently participated in a 24-hr blogathon to spread the word about Save The Children's new breastfeeding report, Superfood for Babies. It's a call to action for the world to rediscover the importance of breastfeeding and to demonstrate a commitment to supporting mothers to breastfeed their babies, especially in the poorest communities in the poorest countries. It calls on world leaders to take action to ensure that every infant is given the life-saving protection that breastfeeding can offer.

Now you can take action too:

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