We can no longer breastfeed our babies, Bauchi women lament

Breastfeeding has health benefits for both babies and mothers. Breast milk provides a baby with ideal nutrition and supports growth and development. Breastfeeding can also help protect baby and mom against certain illnesses and diseases, and even prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). According to UNICEF, breastfed children have at least 6 times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children and an exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child.

UNICEF data further showed that an estimated 13% of child deaths could be averted if 90% of mothers exclusively breastfed their infants for the first six months of life, and delaying breastfeeding by 2-23 hours after birth increases the risk of a baby dying in the first 28 days of a baby’s life by 40 per cent.

It is against this backdrop, that some Bauchi and Taraba women are clamouring for support from government and leaders across the States to provide laws that will enable women in the formal sector to exclusively breastfed their babies without fear of discrimination or abuse.

They decried the lack of support they get from colleagues and superiors in their quest to exclusively breastfeed for six months. They also lamented the lack of privacy due to unavailability of safe spaces in their places of work and schools to enable them breastfeed their infants.

A graduate of Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, Fa’uza Abdullahi told Vanguard how she couldn’t exclusively breastfeed her baby because her coursemates constantly complained that her baby girl was a distraction to her studies.

She said that even though she had vowed to exclusively breastfeed the baby for six months, she fell short and gave her child water by the fifth month because she couldn’t get to the baby on time after an assessment test in school.

“I was lucky to learn about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, but unfortunately, I couldn’t do it for six months. My baby is eight months old now. I had planned to exclusively breastfeed her for six months but by the fifth month, I had a long and difficult day at school, so I couldn’t get to her on time. When her nanny called and told me she had been crying, I knew I had to break my promise because by that time, the baby was so hungry.

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“So the nanny gave her water on that day, and that’s how I wasn’t able to exclusively breastfeed for six months as I had earlier resolved to do. By the way, my coursemates tried to discourage me to bring my baby to school but I didn’t pay attention to them. I hear that the State government now wants to increase maternity leave to six months and enforce the provision of creches for breastfeeding mothers in formal settings.

“It is a good initiative and I am happy for it will do for our mothers if the proposal is passed into law. On a large scale, I think it should be scaled to every State in the country because it will help to reduce stress for mothers and encourage women to pursue their dreams irrespective of where they are,” the young mother said.

A lactating mother and nurse at Nasarawa ‘B’ Primary Healthcare Centre, Azare, Adama Mohammed has called for the establishment of creches for working mothers, saying that creches would allow all lactating mothers who are also working to have privacy to breastfeed their babies.

“We will be glad if the government can do this especially, especially for the breastfeeding mothers working in hospitals. Because of its health benefits that we had been taught, all my six children are exclusive breastfed for six months.

“I make sure I feed my last baby well before going to work. It takes him up to an hour before I go back home and feed him again,” she said. “I do this so that nobody will give him water. If there had been provision for creche here, I wouldn’t have to be going back home to breastfeed him at all.”

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In Taraba, Vanguard found out that lack of legislation is making it difficult for nursing mothers in the workforce to get their six month compulsory maternity leave to adequately practice exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

The after-effect of this phenomenon has led to an increase in stunted growth and in some cases wasted children. As an alternative, investigation shows that these working mothers mostly rely on relatives as care givers, who mostly break the cycle of exclusive breastfeeding by introducing water due to ignorance.

Mrs Apollos Denis, a resident of Jalingo, Taraba state capital, who spoke on her struggle after birth, lamented that the unsupportive work environment for working class mothers is a contributory factor.

“We tried to ensure two of our kids were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their birth, but we could not achieve this because my mother in-law and neighbours whom we left the children with as caregivers while I left for work gave them water.

“If my workplace had a crèche, and a breastfeeding policy, I am sure this wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bauchi State is making moves to enact a law that will enable women in the formal sector exclusively breastfed their babies without fear of discrimination or abuse.

The Executive Chairman, Bauchi State Primary Healthcare Development Agency (BSPHCDA), disclosed this during a media dialogue in commemoration of the breastfeeding week organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Bauchi Field Office in Azare, the headquarters of Katagum LGA.

According to him, the law would provide a six months or four months maternity leave for breastfeeding mothers and students if eventually approved by the Bauchi State House of Assembly. He said this is necessary because exclusive breastfeeding is key to child’s survival, adding that breastmilk is the first immunization of a child.

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“Let us look at a breastfeeding mother, let us create an enabling environment for mothers to strive. Let us ensure that we inform the fathers, grandfather and caregiver that a working class mother or student is an important mother and should have a safe place – privacy in her working place and flexible time for her to go home and breastfeed her baby.

“I want to use this opportunity to inform you that Bauchi state has agreed to send a law that would take care of both the six months maternity leave and create an enabling environment for working class mothers. We have talked about provision of creches which are places in every working place that are supposed to be provided for working mothers to have privacy for her to breastfeed her baby,” he said.

Supporting the Bauchi State government’s initiative, Chief of UNICEF’s Bauchi Field Office, Dr. Tushar Rane, said that optimal infant feeding is a cornerstone for human capital development while poor Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices bear major risks to child survival and socio-economic growth. He noted that this year’s World Breastfeeding Week brings attention to workplace breastfeeding.

“Women make up 20 million out of the 46 million workforce in Nigeria and 95 per cent are within the informal sector, while the formal sector only employs 5 per cent. Shockingly, only 9 per cent of organizations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, with only 1.5 per cent in the public sector.

“Workplace challenges to breastfeeding are one of the primary factors responsible for early cessation of breastfeeding. Women require sufficient time and support to breastfeed successfully. For working mothers, juggling between tasks and breastfeeding may be nearly often impossible,” he said.

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