Mothers not giving up on exclusive breastfeeding during COVID-19 pandemic

Optimal nutrition provided by breastfeeding, along with nurturing care and stimulation, strengthens a child’s brain development with positive impacts that endure for a lifetime.

Ijeoma Onuoha-Ogwe, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A mother carrying her baby
02 August 2021

Cuddling her baby, Perpetua Udechukwu is all smiles and eager to show off her good breastfeeding techniques. “My baby Chinoramnso is now four months old. I have breastfed her exclusively, without water or other fluids, since she was born,” said Udechukwu.

Breastfeeding can bring unparalleled joy and connection between a mother and her child. Yet many women also experience challenges, frustration, and even sometimes pain around the act of breastfeeding. As we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, mothers like Udechukwu in Enugu State, Nigeria are sharing their experiences.

“Since Chinoramnso was born, she has not fallen sick – I know this is in great part due to the breastfeeding. I will continue breastfeeding her until she is 2 years old,” said Udechukwu.

“As a busy trader, I am grateful I have my mother and husband, who are always supporting and helping out with household chores, while I concentrate on breastfeeding my child exclusively,” she said.

A mother carrying her baby

“I chose to exclusively breastfeed my baby due to the numerous health benefits I know it has. I also breastfed my two older children exclusively and saw the rich health benefits it had.”

“I considered stopping breastfeeding because of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, social distancing and negative stories. But I did not stop, due to my previous positive experience with breastfeeding – and I am glad I didn’t,” Udechukwu said.

Dr. George Ugwu, Executive Secretary of the Enugu State Primary Health Care Development Agency said, “Breastfeeding is key to newborn survival. Children who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life are 14 times more likely to survive than non-breastfed children. Breastfeeding also improves a child’s quality of life by supporting cognitive development and health – ultimately helping advance a child’s prospects in life.”

“During the antenatal clinic days at the health center, we teach mothers how to exclusively breastfeed and explain the numerous health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding to the child and mother, which include giving the child immunity at birth. It is also a way of family planning for mothers who wish to space their children naturally,” said Sunday Ogbodo, health center nutrition focal person in Aninri LGA.

“Through support from UNICEF and Ministry of Health in Enugu State, breastfeeding support groups were established to follow-up with nursing mothers, ensuring that optimal breastfeeding continues at home, even when the new mothers are discharged from the clinic,” Ogbodo said.

In Nigeria today, where 1 in 8 children do not reach their 5th birthday and 3 in 10 children are stunted, optimal breastfeeding practices are known to reduce neonatal and child morbidity and mortality rates and reduce stunting. Optimal nutrition provided by breastfeeding, along with nurturing care and stimulation, strengthens a child’s brain development with positive impacts that endure for a lifetime.

“Breastfeeding continues to be a proven foundation for a healthy start in life. Soon after birth and thereafter, exclusive breastfeeding helps prevent stunting, which affects millions of children in Nigeria. UNICEF and partners will continue to advocate for a shared responsibility to encourage and safeguard breastfeeding practices,” said Hanifa Namusoke, Nutrition Manager at UNICEF Nigeria.