13 months old baby Ikechukwu Nnadi, appears smaller than his age, with protruding stomach, large head and scanty gold colored hair. He lay in his mother’s arm looking very pale and obviously malnourished.
His mother, Uchechi Nnadi, 20 years old single mother from Etioha village in Ohaji Local Government Area, Imo State, had no incline why her baby became sickly. She told this reporter that she had a normal delivery and her baby was born very healthy and chubby. Uchechi said she started noticing a change in her baby when he was about 3 months old. “By that time, the baby has started rejecting food and vomiting. Since then, his condition became worse; he has been vomiting and stooling frequently”, she said.
Although she breastfed the baby from birth, Uchechi said she sometimes gave the newborn satchet cow milk and water. “After he was born, my mother told me to be feeding him with water and breast milk. I also gave him satchet cow milk when I feel that he has not taken enough breast milk. After 3 months, I started feeding him with pap, satchet milk and liquid soup but the baby usually vomits it”, she said.
At Etioha Health Centre where Uchechi went for antenatal care, she claimed she was never told about exclusive breast feeding during antenatal. “I registered for antenatal when I was 5 months pregnant. The nurses just told me to wash my hands and nipples well before breastfeeding. They never said anything about exclusive breast feeding”, she said.
However, the Nutrition Focal Person for the Local Government, Mrs. Faith Nduka, said Uchechi may have missed the training on exclusive breastfeeding at the centre because she registered late for antenatal. “Also, most of them do not come early for health talk during antenatal and post natal care. They will relax at home until it’s afternoon and the health workers may have left by then”, she said.
Right now, baby Ikechuchu needs more medical care in order to fully recover but he cannot be admitted at hospital because the mother cannot afford the bill, Mrs. Ndukwe explained.
Like him, many children in Imo State are malnourished and in need of urgent intervention, the State Nutrition Officer, Mrs. Lois Onyike, said. However, the state health centers have some challenges such as lack of Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), under-staffing, lack of financial enablement.
Regarding the cause of baby Ikechukwu’s malnutrition, she said; “from his history, the child has chronic diarrhea which may have caused the malnutrition. He needs doctors assessment and diagnoses”.
According to UNICEF Nutrition Advocacy Specialist, Zakaria Fusheini, Nigeria is one of the countries with the lowest level of exclusive breastfeeding with only about 17 per cent of newborns exclusively breast fed, according to the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS).
Speaking during a two-day media dialogue on Child Malnutrition by UNICEF in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, held in Owerri, Imo State, UNICEF Fusheini, noted that Ignorance on proper feeding practices has been identified as one of the causes of malnutrition, hence the need for proper sensitization about nutrition in the homes.
According to UNICEF report, breastfeeding is the closest thing the world has to a magic bullet for child survival. “In developing countries such as Nigeria, exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour of birth, with no additional foods or liquids for 6 months, and continued breastfeeding until age 2 or longer – has the potential to prevent 12 per cent of all deaths in children under age 5”, the report said.
Also, exclusively breastfed children are less susceptible to diarrhoea and pneumonia and are 14 times more likely to survive than non-breastfed children, the reported added.
“Breast milk is safe: it is always the right temperature, requires no preparation, and is available even in environments with poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water. In this way, breastfeeding guarantees babies access to a reliable, sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Breastfeeding also supports healthy brain development, higher educational achievement, and lowers the risk of obesity and other chronic diseases.
Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding: it helps prevent post-partum hemorrhage, reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and allows women to better space their pregnancies.
After the first 6 months of life, UNICEF recommends that children eat a frequent and diverse diet of nutrient-rich and hygienically prepared complementary foods in addition to breast milk. These foods are not only to fill a child’s belly: they must provide enough energy, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals to meet their growing needs.
Babies need the right foods at the right time to grow and develop to their full potential. The most critical time for good nutrition is in the brief 1,000 day period from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until a child’s second birthday, experts said.