Human milk is the ideal nourishment for infants’ survival, growth and development.
Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life stimulates babies’ immune systems.
It also protects them from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections – two of the major causes of infant mortality in the developing world – and improves their responses to vaccination.
Yet only slightly more than one third of all infants in developing countries are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
The issue of exclusive breastfeeding continues to remain topical in the domains of health workers and development organisations, as well as health, focused non-governmental organisations (NGOs. This is because Ghana’s performance, in terms of exclusive breastfeeding, is still low, according to some study.
WHO’s definition of exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk. No other liquids or solids are given – not even water – with the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines.
Breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and infant and according to the WHO, breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life and that, “Breastfeeding protects against diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, and may also have longer-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence.”
Research shows that newborns account for nearly half of all deaths of children under five and that early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), delayed breastfeeding increases risk of newborn deaths by up to 80 per cent and reports further that about 500,000 newborns in Ghana are not breastfed within the first hour of life.
Article published on UNICEF portal on August 2, 2016, quoted France Bégin, UNICEF’s Senior Nutrition Adviser of having said that, “if all babies are fed nothing but breast milk from the moment they are born until they are six months old, over 800,000 lives would be saved every year worldwide.”
The Ghana Demographic and Health Survey 2014 indicates that only 52 per cent of infants under six months old are exclusively breastfed.
Experts say that babies who were not breastfed at all are 14 times more likely to die than those who are fed only breast milk.
A press statement, released jointly by UNICEF and WHO on July 31 to mark this year’s Breastfeeding Week, said an estimated 78 million babies – or three in five – are not breastfed within the first hour of life, putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding.
The statement further quoted the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, of having said: “Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life.”
The World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually from 1-7th August in over 170 countries to promote breastfeeding and improve infant nutrition around the world.
For instance, exclusive breastfeeding is one of the key components of the Mother and Baby Friendly Health Facility Initiative (MBFHI) outlined in the Ghana National Newborn Strategy and Action Plan.
The MBFHI programme, which started implementation in 2015 and being piloted in the Kassena-Nankana West, the Bongo District, and the Bawku and Bolgatanga Municipalities is aimed at is ensuring the provision of respectful, courteous, and supportive facility-based care for every mother and every baby, including promotion of early and exclusive breastfeeding.
In an interview, the Executive Director of the Rural Initiatives for Self-Empowerment-Ghana (RISE-Ghana), one of the implementing NGOs of the MBFHI, Mr Awal Ahmed Kariama, said through focus group discussions, the NGO had been able to educate over 1,760 nursing mothers in the Kassena-Nankana West District in the Upper East Region.