Though the initiation of breastfeeding is high, statistics have shown that more than 50 percent of women of childbearing age are employed and must return to work at the middle of the period when Exclusive Breast Feeding (EBF) is most crucial resulting into a reduced practice of EBF among working mothers. VERA ONANA writes about the constraints of the working mother and some interventions that could help them achieve EBF.
In ancient times, achieving EBF for mothers was a cinch. As a matter of fact, some mothers breastfed their babies exclusively for almost two years but in this generation, so much has changed as mothers seat on the boards of mega-companies and have the same 8am to 5pm schedule as their male counterparts while some others have to work beyond the typical 5pm.
Consequently, exclusive breastfeeding has become a huge feat for the modern day woman who has to juggle this huge task with professionalism. In a bid to ease their burdens, mothers jumped at the advent of baby formulas and all other sorts of baby food just to augment breastfeeding and make their working life less stressful.
The many benefits of Exclusive Breast Feeding (EBF)
However, over the years, there have been criticisms of baby formulas as experts keep emphasizing on the need of mothers to at least breastfeed their babies for six months before introducing any other kind of food. According to experts, EBF helps to boost the immunity of infants as well as aid in properly developing their mental and intellectual capacities. It also provides infants with superior nutritional content that is capable of improving infant immunity and possibly reduces in future health care spending.
The World Health Organisation thereby recommends colostrum, the yellowish breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy as the ideal food for the newborn. Researchers have also discovered the tremendous positive effects that the colostrums has on infants include but is not limited to creating a guard against invading germs by forming a layer of protection in the mucosal membranes of the baby.
The reality of EBF based on statistics
Though the WHO/UNICEF advocates the cultivation of a breastfeeding culture that encourages women to breastfeed their children exclusively for the first 6 months of life and then up to 2 years of age and beyond, the practicality is not so encouraging. Recent estimate by the WHO showed that worldwide only 35 per cent of children between birth and their 5th month are breastfed exclusively. Also, based on the 2008 WHO Global data on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Nigeria, 16.7 per cent of children were exclusively breastfed for less than 4 months, while 13.1 per cent were exclusively breastfed for less than 6 months. According to the Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), in 2008 17 per cent of children were exclusively breastfed for less than 4 months, while 13 per cent were exclusively breastfed for less than 6 months. According to the UNICEF Infant and Young Child feeding global database in Nigeria, only 17.4 per cent of babies were fed exclusively for less than 6 months in the reference year 2013.
Breastfeeding is easier said than done – working mother
While the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding cannot be overemphasized, working mothers find it difficult to achieve the recommended at least 6 months period of EBF as their maternity leaves terminate when barely half of the period is covered. This leads to a reduced or incomplete practice of EBF among working and professional mothers.
For a 33-year-old mother who works as an administrator, EBF is easier said than done. “It seemed very easy in the first three months following the birth of my baby girl as the work exigencies were not there. I was able to breast feed her without even introducing water but once the maternity leave was over, it became a different ball game. The company I work with does not allow children to be brought in the premises. I had to put my baby in a crèche that is quiet a distance from my office. I initially started expressing milk but the milk was not enough at some point. I really wanted to achieve the EBF thing so I tried but my baby was suffering, she was beginning to lose weight. I had no other choice than to augment the expressed milk with water and baby formula. It was my most logical decision and I just hoped that the prior 3 months of breastfeeding had sufficed in creating a foundation of protection for my baby.”
Constraints challenges to EBF from the mother’s perspective
Researchers Ojo Agunbiade, of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Obafemi Awolowo University and Opeyemi Ogunleye in their paper “Constraints to exclusive breastfeeding practice among mothers in south West Nigeria: implication for scaling up,” published in the International breastfeeding journal itemized some of constraints and challenges to EBF among mothers in South Western Nigeria as to include health-related problems, refusal of breast milk by some children, inadequate feeding, and lactation problems. Other reasons that were given by the mothers in the research for the discontinuation of exclusive breastfeeding were discovered by the researchers as return to work/business place, insatiable hunger of babies after breastfeeding, pains in the breast, lack of spousal support, lose of weight for both mother and infant, breastfeeding was becoming too stressful and pregnancy.
Agunbiade and Ogunleye discovered that “though a high level of awareness of breastfeeding and the intention of the mothers to breastfeed their babies up to a year were recorded. Paradoxically, of the over 100 mothers whose infants were less than or up to 6 months only 19 percent of them practised exclusive breastfeeding.” The researchers stated in their findings that “breastfeeding initiation immediately after birth was 45 percent, 29 percent did so within the first two hours after birth. On the length of breastfeeding per feed, more than one third (about 35 per cent) of the mothers did not take count.”
Interventions that could help EBF
According to Agunbiade and Ogunleye, “breastfeeding mothers are faced with multiple challenges as they strive to practice exclusive breastfeeding. Thus, scaling up of exclusive breastfeeding among mothers requires concerted efforts at the macro, meso, and micro levels of Nigerian society.”
The researchers recommended an urgent need of policies that will aim at providing acceptable food supplements that could aid the supply of breast milk among postpartum mothers, especially those with low socio-economic status.
They also admonished that policies aimed at improving exclusive breastfeeding uptake should also include support systems. “Significant others like grandmothers, mothers-in-laws and most especially husbands in the process of encouraging breastfeeding mothers must be incorporated. There is an indication that significant others play active roles in encouraging or discouraging exclusive breastfeeding practices among the study population.
Source: The Tribune News