​Beyond the nipple: 9 things you didn’t know about breast milk

Beyond the nipple: 9 things you didn’t know about breast milk

By Judd-Leonard Okafor |
The bandwagon for breastfeeding is growing bigger and louder. And World Breastfeeding Week this week only fuelled the clamour. But that’s for a good reason.

Only one in four children around the world is exclusively breastfed—that’s breastmilk and nothing else—for the first six months of their life, according to new data coming out around the week.

Only 23 countries have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60%.

The world had failed babies and mothers with its lack of investment in breastfeeding, going by the findings of Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, which assessed 194 countries.

“No country in the world fully meets recommended standards for breastfeeding,” said the United Nations Children’s Fund in the report.

Research shows why you are better off with breastmilk.

• Breastmilk contains not some but all the nutrients and fluids a baby needs for the first six months of life. So don’t think you are helping by giving a bit of water. The milk is nearly 90% water already. It is also the first and best protection a baby has against an array of diseases—a critical first vaccine for the baby, as health minister Isaac Adewole says.

• Breastmilk helps to prevent pneumonia and diarrhoea, two of the leading causes of death for children under five. Babies who are breastfed are 14 times less likely to die than those who are not fed breastmilk.

• Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of death in new-born babies. As new-borns account for nearly half of all deaths of children under five; the longer breastfeeding is delayed, the higher the risk of death in the first month of life. Delaying breastfeeding by 2-23 hours after birth increases the risk of dying in the first 28 days of a baby’s life by 40 per cent.

• Breastfeeding helps in the cognitive development of children, meaning they do better in school, and longer breastfeeding durations are associated with higher scores on intelligence tests.

• Breastfeeding benefits not only individual children and families, but also the entire economy. The World Bank’s new Investment Framework for Nutrition notes that every dollar invested in promoting breastfeeding can generate a return of $35 in economic benefits.

• Nearly 5.4 million children each year miss out on these benefits. Only 17 out of 100 of them get exclusive breastfeeding. The loss contributes to the burden of chronic malnutrition affecting nearly 11m children.

• The low rate of exclusive breastfeeding leads to more than 100,000 child deaths and translates into almost $12 billion in future economic losses for the country.

• When the cost of low cognitive development and low IQ, as well as health costs are added in, inadequate breastfeeding is estimated to cost the Nigerian economy US$21 billion per year, or 4.1% percent of its gross national income. That figure comes to N7.6 trillion, almost more than the entire health sector budget.

• About 74% of children who are not exclusively breastfed are from families in the lowest income group in Nigeria.

“Mothers can’t do it alone,” said Aisha Buhari, wife of the President and the National Nutrition Ambassador. “I have advocated to make it one of our country’s priorities … by investing in progammes and policies that foster enabling environment for breastfeeding women.”

“Many mothers want to breastfeed for longer than they currently do, and these policies will help them do it,” added Buhari.

Christopher Ugboko, head of gender, adolescent and elderly division at the federal health ministry, said documentation show children who don’t get breastfeed are more likely to take ill.

“When a child is sick, the mother—if she works—may not even go to work and sometimes the father, depending on the severity of the illness. These are costs on the country. She won’t contribute her quota the entire period the child is sick, to national development, and sometimes the father too.

“If you put all that cost together, it is a lot. And they are saying if you just invest a million [naira] in our children, you are going to get eleven million simply by doing exclusive breastfeeding.”

Only around 17 in every 100 children are fed exclusively on breast milk for the first six months of life. The rates have not increased in the last 20 years, placing Nigeria off track to meet a 50% target by 2025 in its National Strategic Plan of Action on Nutrition.
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