In north-east Nigeria, husbands’ support boosts breastfeeding

UNICEF works with government and other partners to promote exclusive breastfeeding in Nigeria through infant and young child feeding support groups

Samuel Kaalu, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A mother holds her baby
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Kaalu
04 August 2020

When Hadiza Mahmud, 37, had Husna, her fourth child, she was not in doubt about what to feed her with in the first six months of life: nothing but breast milk.

“It was an easy decision to make,” said Hadiza, while waiting for three-month-old Husna to get her vaccinations at the Kofar Ran Primary Healthcare Centre (PHCC) in the heart of Bauchi town, north-east Nigeria.

“I breast-fed all my children before Husna and have seen the benefits of breastfeeding. I gave them only breast milk for the first six months of life and they are all very healthy. They rarely get sick, and as a mother, I’m thrilled with that,” said Hadiza.

“It means I save not only time but the money I could have spent on hospital bills, and that’s a plus for a family with a modest income.”

If the good outcome of breastfeeding her children motivates Hadiza to practice it, the support she gets from her husband inspires her to continue to breastfeed.

“My husband takes care of the insecticide-treated bed net for us to sleep under. He also holds the baby when I’m tired and resting,” said Hadiza.  “Sometimes he wakes me up in the night to breast feed the baby. He also provides adequate food, including fruits and vegetables.”

Jamila Abdullahi, 30, also breastfeeds her son, Mohammed. She is also at the clinic on a routine vaccination visit, and said she equally enjoys support from her husband.

But when Jamila, a mother of six, had her first child 12 years ago, she didn’t give him only breast milk for the first six months because she hadn’t heard of its benefits.  

“I had been feeding my children with both breast milk and other foods, including water, in their first six months of life,” said Jamila.

When she was pregnant with her fourth child, she heard about exclusive breastfeeding on a visit to the hospital for ante-natal care.

“I was advised to practice exclusive breastfeeding. I took the advice of the health workers seriously. My husband too encouraged me to try it. We both saw the benefits and became instant converts,” said Jamila.

“Now, anytime we have a baby, my husband is quick to stress it must be only breast milk for the first six months. And he follows that through by reminding me to breast feed the baby regularly. He also buys enough food stuff to ensure I eat well,” said Jamila.

Maryam Mahmoud, is a facility manager at the Kofar Ran PHCC. She said that every pregnant woman attending ANC is told about exclusive breastfeeding and encouraged to practice it. “We are happy they are not just doing it, but they are also being supported by their husbands.”

Although exclusive breastfeeding is a foundation for good nutrition, only 38 per cent of Nigerian mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding.

UNICEF has been working with government and other partners to promote exclusive breastfeeding in Nigeria through infant and young child feeding support groups.

The support groups - which comprise men and women – take place in communities where they mobilise, educate and raise awareness among caregivers on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for children aged 1-6 months. The groups also teach mothers and caregivers about appropriate food for children aged 6-24 months.

In Bauchi State, UNICEF-trained groups have reached no fewer than 13,638 mothers and caregivers with messages on good feeding practices since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria, said Dr. Rajia Sharhan, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist at the Bauchi Field Office.

“The objective is to ensure mothers continue to breastfeed their children during the pandemic while strictly observing the prevention protocols for the disease.”

With husbands supporting their wives, and mothers like Hadiza and Jamila actively promoting exclusive breastfeeding in their communities, the number of mothers and caregivers practising breastfeeding in the north-east may begin to change for the positive.