Exclusive breastfeeding will prevent malnutrition, stunting in Nigeria – UNICEF

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A nutritionist, Mrs Ada Ezeogu, on Wednesday advised nursing mothers against giving water to their babies during the first six months to prevent malnutrition and stunting.

Ezeogu, who works with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Akure Office said in Lagos that babies should be fed exclusively on breast milk.

According to her, breast milk contains 88.1 per cent of water which an infant needed in the first six months of life.

She defined exclusive breastfeeding as a situation where the baby was being fed with only breast milk for the first six months of his life without water or any form of liquid.

Ezeogu said that the nutrients contained in breast milk were adequate in quantity and quality to promote optimal growth and development of infants.

She highlighted the percentage composition of breast milk to include: Water- 88.1 per cent; protein– 0.9 per cent; fat – 3.8 per cent; lactose – 7.0 per cent and other nutrients- 0.2 per cent.

“Breast milk has enough water to meet the breast needs of the child.

“So, you don’t need to add any water for the baby, otherwise you will be taken the space of the nutrients from the milk in the baby’s stomach.

“Nursing mothers should ensure that babies that are less than six months do not take water.

“If you give water, the baby will not be able to get sufficient milk and nutrient requirements and he will be malnourished,’’ Ezeogu said.

She said that breast milk has everything a baby needs to quench thirst and satisfy hunger.

“It is the best possible food and drink that can be offered a baby so that the baby can grow to be strong and healthy.

“The water requirements of infants from six to 12 months old can be met through breast milk.

“Additional water can be provided through fruits or fruits juices, vegetables or small amounts of boiled water offered after meal.

“Caution should be taken to ensure that water and other liquids do not replace breast milk,” the nutritionist said.

Ezeogu said that suboptimal breastfeeding, specifically non-exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding that were limited in quantity, quality and variety contributed to high rate of malnutrition and stunting.

She described stunting as “a life sentence which condemns a child for life by making him shorter than his age with poorer cognitive capacity, low IQ, weakened immune system and more likelihood of diseases later in life’’.

She said: “An estimated 17 million, out of the estimated 40 million Nigerian children under the age of five (from an estimated population of 197 million), have their bodies and minds limited by stunting.

“Preventing malnutrition, which causes stunting, starts with exclusive breastfeeding.

“We appeal to state governments to enact policies and strengthen interventions to improve maternal nutrition and health, beginning with adolescent girls.

“Implementing interventions for improved exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, such as extending maternity leave to six months, will promote exclusive breastfeeding.”

Ezeogu called for intensified media advocacy in the areas of child nutrition to educate more women and attract attention and action from the stakeholders. (NAN)

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