As a teenager/young adult who grew up in Nigeria, I have to say the choice of how to feed a baby never really crossed my mind. Being the last of six kids I had little or no personal contact with babies except at social gatherings and church where they got passed around for hugs and cuddles, with seemingly no need to be feed. On the rare occasions where they cried for a feed, a bottle of infant formula or pap was handy to pacify baby. Breastfeeding wasn’t something I witnessed among the ‘elite’ in society; it was common to find a breastfeeding mum at the market, on the bus. I personally have no memories of a mother with a blue collar job breastfeeding publicly or privately. This is a trend we have to look into as a society; there are numerous reasons why breastfeeding should be reconsidered by the Nigerian mother.
One, the cost: financially breastfeeding isn’t an expensive endeavor, there are no additional bills incurred long-term for the breastfeeding mother. The use of substitutes however, requires a constant purchase of formula, constant electric supply, a sterilizer, bottles, washing up liquids, and other innumerable costs. In a developing country with terrible water supply, breastfeeding protects the immune system of the child, saving medical costs. As a nation somehow we have come to believe that anything ‘bought’ is better than anything ‘handmade’, the more we spend on something the more authentic its value is, this is an erroneous belief and has robbed us of much value. DIY (do it yourself) is a very important attitude to have towards life, saves you cost and gives you a sense of fulfillment. Breastfeeding is the best form of DIY I can think of. Its benefits are numerous both for mother and child. The most important being the knowledge of knowing that (your) body carries on sustaining your child even outside the womb. Just as I would not castigate someone who decides to call a painter to paint his house, this point is not to castigate those who for diverse reasons cannot or chose not to breastfeed. It is simply to bring the financial benefits of breastfeeding to mind through a different perspective.
Two, the health risks: the chance of survival in the first months of life is six times greater in breastfed children than in non-breastfed children. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the incidence of death in the first six months of life. Breastfeeding also reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhea, two major child killers (Lancet 2008). According to Lancet (2013) optimum breastfeeding of an infant under two years of age is one of the greatest preventive interventions on child survival with the potential of preventing over 800,000 deaths (13 per cent of all deaths) in children under five in the developing world. The risk of not breastfeeding exists both in developed and developing countries; this is however increased in the latter by a higher burden of disease, low access to clean water and sanitary measures. The health benefits of breastfeeding are numerous; a very important one is its ability to protect the child from allergies. Lawrence (1994) The incidence of cow’s milk allergies is up to seven times greater in babies who are fed artificial baby milk instead of human milk. The prevention of allergies in children through this means is very important in Nigeria where we lack the appropriate facilities and technical know how for detecting allergies. A lot of allergies are passed off as heat rashes, an unpleasant temperament or basic diarrhea. Breastfeeding allows baby’s immune system to develop at its own pace while minimizing the amount of allergens they are exposed to in the first few months of life. (Zeretzke, 2008)
Three the psychological and maternal benefits: breastfeeding reduces the chances of breast and ovarian cancer in women; it is also reduces the occurrence of osteoporosis and helps with weight loss. Research papers from notable organizations and personal stories from nursing mothers acknowledge the impact breastfeeding has on the relationship between child and mother. Breastfeeding encourages you to hold your baby close more often than not, this also occurs with formula feeding, however a breastfed baby tends to come to the breast for different reasons for varying duration which essentially brings them skin to skin albeit not completely for a longer time. This has been shown to bring them comfort and a feeling of safety and though tiresome for mothers at the time, from my personal experience it makes me more interested in giving her cuddles and hugs even though she has weaned from the breast.
The benefits of breastfeeding aren’t limited to those mentioned above. These benefits especially with regards to baby’s health are enhanced by exclusive breastfeeding and the duration of breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and complementary feeding along with breastfeeding for up to two years is the recommended practice by UNICEF. This guideline is based on research and designed to guide mothers on what the optimal practice should be. And while some might argue that babies have being mix-fed and turned out fine, my question is can they do better than fine? If there is that chance that their general well-being would be improved, isn’t it worth the try?
Give breastfeeding a go; give your child the healthiest nutritional start.