A group, Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WFA), on Monday said appropriate feeding practices for children was still lacking among Nigerians, thus bringing about the prevalence of malnutrition in the country.
The organisation’s Communications Lead, Mr Joseph Jikeme, made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
Jikeme spoke against the backdrop of the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting, marked annually on March 3 with the theme: “End Malnutrition: Protect the Future of the Nigerian Child ”.
According to him, research identifies cultural beliefs of giving children other foods, especially water, during the first six months of life, thereby preventing exclusive breastfeeding of infants, as gaps in addressing malnutrition.
“Malnutrition is fast becoming endemic in Nigeria; it accounted for more than 50 per cent of under-five mortality in Nigeria, with the infant mortality as high as 103 per 1,000 live births.
“Although, Nigeria is often seen to be blessed with various foods across the regions of the country, it has become clear that appropriate feeding practices for children is lacking among its people.
“Breast milk is important to the proper growth and development of infants, as it contains the nutrients and antibodies needed by infants to grow strong and healthy.
“However, local culture, religious beliefs and unethical medical practices have plagued the effective breastfeeding of children, over the last few decades.
“This is resulting in higher rates of wasting from acute undernutrition, stunting, and underweight in children across the country,” Jikeme said.
He said that in spite of the continuous education of mothers, significant third party individuals with the family and community often became a hindrance to mothers, practicing exclusive breastfeeding.
According to him, research has also identified that working mothers are usually unable to exclusively breastfeed their children within the first six months, due to their jobs and busy work life.
“Other significant gaps include desire of mothers to maintain the shape of their breasts for beauty purposes; the belief that breast milk substitutes imply the financial capacity of parents to care for their children.
“Also, the unethical practice of encouraging mothers to feed their children with breast milk substitutes by medical personnel; and oftentimes, the belief that breast milk alone is not satisfactory enough to feed babies.
“For children of over six months of age, proper complimentary feeding is often lacking, as children are fed with meals containing one food group,” the communications lead said.
Jikeme said that optimal breastfeeding could be achieved when mothers were properly educated on the importance of breastfeeding and supported by efficient policy structures that improved breastfeeding practices.
He said there was need for the Nigerian Labour Law to be amended to emphasise a six-month maternity leave for mothers, in both public and private sectors, as had been adopted in some states for their public sector workers.
“The country can further achieve optimal breastfeeding by providing breastfeeding-friendly workplaces in the public and private sectors that support breastfeeding breaks.
“This is to include facilities such as breastfeeding rooms, on-site creches, and flexible work hours for mothers.
“Private sector employers can be given incentives with tax breaks, to encourage baby friendly workplaces and six months maternity leave; and mother should be guaranteed their jobs on return from maternity leave.
“Malnutrition can be ended in Nigeria, with the implementation of key strategies.
“Promoting exclusive breastfeeding for infants will help promote healthy growth and development, and proper complimentary feeding will also ensure that every child grows properly.
“This can only be achieved with an inclusive stakeholders’ action, that includes the mothers, fathers, extended family members and community members, government and medical facilities.
“They all play an active role in ensuring that babies are properly breastfed and grow healthy,” Jikeme said.