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6 Months Exclusive Breastfeeding Protects Babies Against Illnesses – Experts 

By Yerima Kini Nsom & Basil K. Mbuye — Nursing mothers have been advised to feed their babies only with breast milk for six months which protects their babies against illness. Health experts from the United Nations Children Emergency Fund, UNICEF, and the Ministry of Public Health, made the recommendation in Yaounde recently.

At press briefing as part of activities towards this year’s edition of the World Breastfeeding Week that ran from November 8 to 13, experts harping on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. S senior official in the Ministry of Public Health, Estelle Laure Mahop, said breastfeeding is the best form of feeding that any nursing mother should give her baby.  She refuted claims that breast feeding causes a woman’s breast to become shapeless, adding that having sex during breastfeeding has no negative bearing on the baby’s health.

Hear her: “Exclusive breastfeeding provides enough water and all the nutrients the child needs for proper growth. Breast milk facilitates meconium discharge at birth and is easily digested by the baby. It protects the baby against infections, thanks to the antibodies that it contains. Breast milk also creates and reinforces affective links between mother and child as well as helps a harmonious brain development to the child.” Mahop, a nutrition expert, averred that exclusive breastfeeding alleviates the daily burden of a mother’s activities and reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in her. Besides, it reduces obesity and weight gain risks.

It was observed that all religious beliefs and tribes give consideration to nursing mothers. The expert pointed out that exclusive breastfeeding reduces child morbidity and mortality as well as helps the family to save money. She advised fathers to encourage wives and mothers around them to practise exclusive breastfeeding.

It was also revealed that exclusive breastfeeding as well as specific drugs for the mother and the baby greatly reduces HIV transmission risk from mother to child. “Feeding a baby with breast milk and other food or liquids before the age of six months reduces the quality of milk produced by the mother and can make the baby sick,” she warned.

They have also been advised to start breastfeeding in the first hour following the birth of the baby. Statistics indicate that nursing mothers are still reluctant to embrace exclusive breastfeeding. Only two out of five mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding during the baby’s first six months. Such a situation leads to a high rate of child illness and death. One death out of three in children in Cameroon is caused by bad breastfeeding practices.

Exclusive breastfeeding means feeding one’s baby only with breast milk for six months and nothing else (no other milk, food or liquids even not a sip of water) except drugs prescribed by a medical practitioner or a nurse. Mothers are also told to do best hygienic practices like washing hands with water and soap before breastfeeding.

Another nutrition expert, Malyse Ngede Mahamat, presented legal instruments that regulate the sale of baby food in Cameroon. She said such food cannot give the child all the nutrients the way breast milk would. She regretted that only 20 percent of babies in Cameroon enjoy exclusive breastfeeding.

An official of the organisation, Claire Soppo, announced that they would carry out an advocacy campaign in the East, Adamawa, North, and Far North Regions. Meantime, a seminar was held in Buea, November 11, at the conference room of the Regional Delegation, aimed at sensitising the population on the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

Support Breastfeeding

The Southwest Regional Delegation of Public Health in association with the Federation of Cameroon Breastfeeding Promotion Associations, FECABPA, urged the population to support breastfeeding mothers.

According to an information sheet from the Ministry of Public Health, health staff and social development actors should improve their knowledge concerning breastfeeding, support breastfeeding with practical advice, when necessary, and inform, sensitise and motivate nursing mothers. On their part, fathers should encourage their wives and mothers around them to practise exclusive feeding.

Meanwhile, young girls and boys should seek information on breastfeeding, its advantages and practices and share the information with people around them. The key speaker at the meeting, Gerald Epie, Regional Focal Person For Nutrition in Southwest, said if the population backs breastfeeding mothers, there will be an increase in the percentage of exclusive breastfeeding level, which Cameroon is lacking in.

“The support given to nursing mothers will help them to practise breastfeeding optimally, which is advantageous to both the baby and the mother,” Epie said. FECABPA, James Achanyi-Fontem, called on the media and health practitioners to sensitise the population on the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding. This year’s World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) was celebrated under the theme: “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers.”

First published in The Post print edition no 01479

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