Stepping up for breastfeeding

This World Breastfeeding Week, Markus Bulus’ service as a health worker highlights the roles of warm chain actors in promoting exclusive breastfeeding

Opeyemi Olagunju, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
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04 August 2022

Markus Bulus has been a healthcare worker for nearly thirty years. He is currently serving in his fourth duty station, in Kirfi community, north-east Nigeria. Markus has dedicated a part of these years to providing Maternal and New Child Health (MNCH) services to mothers and their newborn babies. “More than a thousand, I have not been counting, but it is more than a thousand,” Markus responded when asked the number of mothers whom he has served. Markus may not be sure of the number, but he is certain about a message he shares with every mother; “breast milk is the best food for babies in the first months of life.” “Even at home, I ensured my children had exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) in their early months,” Markus said.

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Markus believes he is a champion for promoting breastfeeding for children’s healthy growth

Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for every child. The initiation of breastfeeding in the first hour of birth and EBF in the following six months strengthen a child’s immunity against most childhood diseases. It is easily digested – no constipation, diarrhea or upset stomach. Babies have healthier weights as they grow. Breastfed babies score higher in IQ tests. Despite the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, 56 percent of the world’s children do not enjoy exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life. In Bauchi state, the exclusive breastfeeding rate is 21 percent, lower than the national average of 29 percent. Poor awareness of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding is among the factors responsible for the low adoption of Exclusive Breast Feeding (EBF) in the first six months of life by mothers in the State.

The World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is celebrated every year to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding for children’s health. The theme for this year’s WBW is “Step up for Breastfeeding; Educate and Support.” The theme focuses on the roles of warm chain actors such as Markus in stimulating the adoption of EBF. The theme draws attention to the need to strengthen the capacity of these actors for the continued protection and promotion of EBF.

Fatima Aliyu is one of the mothers who visit Markus’ health facility in Kirfi. After learning about the benefits of EBF, she adopted it for her baby, Mohammed — now three months old. 

“Our baby has not had any health challenges. Some of my neighbours’ babies who are not exclusively breastfed, have had health challenges."

A woman and her baby
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Fatima gives her son, Mohammed exclusive breastfeeding. He is growing well and healthy.
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Markus attends to a mother in a health facility in Kirfi community, Bauchi State

Fatima’s husband, Ahmad Musa, supports her in adopting EBF, after he learnt about the benefits from health workers. “I ensure she has the nutritious food that will enable her to feed our baby with breast milk properly,” he said.

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Ahmad was convinced that exclusive breastfeeding is the best for Mohammed in his early months. He supports his wife to adopt it.

As the world commemorates the WBW this year, stakeholders must advance initiatives to equip health workers — especially those who, like Markus, serve vulnerable families in rural communities — with the skills required to continually support and educate families on EBF.