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UNICEF Recommends Exclusive Breastfeeding of Infants

UNICEF recommends that women breast feed during the first few months of their baby’s life to improve the child’s chances of survival. Health specialists say that’s because of the important ingredients available in the milk, especially in the portion called colostrum. That message and others were emphasized at a forum held at the headquarters of the Development Communications Network in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital recently to mark annual breastfeeding week. Voice of America English to Africa Service’s Jackie Ogoh reports that nutritionists say babies who are breastfed exclusively will grow up healthier than those fed by other methods. They say breast milk, without any other food or water, offers babies almost all the essential nutrition they need in the first months of life.

Among the important elements of milk are carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Nigerian nutritionist Iwalola Akin-Jimoh says breast milk boosts a baby’s immune system which can result in higher intelligence, and lead to a baby’s having a healthy weight.

She says a mother should exclusively breast-feed her baby until the child is at least six months old.

She says, “Ideally, breastfeeding should start at about an hour at birth, so that the baby is able to benefit from the first milk that comes out that is yellowish, which is called colostrum. It contains a lot of benefits for the baby that will protect it against various illnesses that the child may be exposed to from birth.”

Akin-Jimoh says exclusive breast-feeding also benefits the mothers.

“When you breastfeed exclusively and on demand, it is possible for you not to get pregnant until you start introducing other foods to the child. It offers some birth control properties to the mother, particularly for the first three months of birth. A mother who exclusively breastfeeds her babies is not susceptible to breast cancer,” she says.

Gynecologists say weight gained by women during pregnancy can be lost during breast milk production.

Nursing mothers are expected to drink a lot of fluids, to produce a steady supply of milk to their children - either naturally, or by means of a breast pump, if they have to go to work and can’t always breast feed their babies directly.

Akin-Jimoh has advice for women who fear that breast-feeding will result in their breasts losing shape. She says, “Its not breastfeeding that makes women lose the shape of their breast. It is the management of the breast itself – like the type of bra you are wearing, the type of support you gave your breast during pregnancy……because that is when the tissues of the breast actually grow. You also need to support yourself, when you start nursing. So, it’s the management you give to your breast that ensures your breast is still firm.”

However, nutritionists stress that mothers who’ve been advised by doctors not to breast feed their babies should heed such advice in the interest of the child’s health. Among those who may not wish to breast feed are women infected with HIV / AIDS.

Breast feeding may increase the chances of infecting an infant with the disease, though the drug nevirapine – given in combination with other anti-retroviral drugs – has been shown to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission. In this situation, many leave the decision of whether to breast feed or not up to the mother.