For infants to survive, grow and develop properly they require the right proportion of nutrients. Breast milk is rich in nutrients and anti-bodies and contains the right quantities of fat, sugar, water and protein. These nutrients are major pre-requisites to the health and survival of the baby. When a child is exclusively breast fed, their immune system is strengthened, enabling it to life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhoea amongst other infections. In fact, reports indicate that babies who are not breast fed for the first six months of life are 15 times more likely to die from Pneumonia compared to newborns that are breast fed exclusively for six months after birth.
The World Health Organization estimates that around 220,000 children could be saved every year with exclusive breastfeeding. It recommends that colostrum, the yellowish sticky breast milk that is produced at the end of pregnancy as the ideal food for newborns; to be given within the first hour of birth, a process referred to as early initiation. Infants breast fed within the first hour of birth are three times more likely to survive than those who have their first breast milk after a day. Exclusive breastfeeding should be given from birth up to 6 months and continued breastfeeding is recommended with appropriate complementary food until the child celebrates his/her second year birth day without water, food or drink. The only exceptions are rehydration salts and syrups that contain medicine.
It becomes essential that we counsel, encourage and support mothers to initiate exclusive breastfeeding. Governments, family members and community health workers all have a role to play in the survival of newborns through the uptake of exclusive breast feeding.
****Lanre Olagunju is a hydrologist turned freelance journalist. An alumnus of the American College of Journalism, Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He is @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter.