Five weeks after Mrs Grace was delivered of her baby, her breast milk still isn’t flowing. Grace, who shared her story at a conference commemorating last year’s World Breastfeeding Week in Lagos, is one of the many nursing mothers who experienced difficulty in breastfeeding their babies. Last year’s World Breastfeeding Week, themed “Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life”, was celebrated to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. According to the World Health Organisation, exclusive breastfeeding is when the infant receives ONLY breast milk, except oral rehydration solution, drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines. WHO describes breastfeeding as the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need and recommends that exclusive breastfeeding starts within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old. It said nutritious complementary foods should then be added alongside breast milk for up to two years or beyond. But despite the benefits of breastfeeding, only 23.7 per cent of Nigerian women reportedly breastfeed their children exclusively.

“I wasn’t lactating properly; I was having pains and I didn’t have anyone to encourage me. So, I thought of just giving him formula,” Mrs Edith said, explaining why she couldn’t exclusively breastfeed her baby. Some of the women who shared their breastfeeding experiences at the conference said they would love to exclusively breastfeed their babies but could not for one reason or another. There are several reasons why many women can’t exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months. Like Mrs. Edith, not many women immediately lactate after childbirth, while some are not able to produce enough milk to feed the baby; so, they resort to formula-feeding. For Mrs. Charity, it took two days for her breast milk to flow.

“My breast milk didn’t come out on time, so my doctor asked me to give her water and formula. Moreover, my daughter wasn’t satisfied with only breast milk,” she said.

Contrary to how it is commonly portrayed, many women confessed that breastfeeding is hard, exhausting and can be overwhelming. Breastfeeding mums need as much support as they can get. Corroborating what the women said, a man who attended the conference with his wife advised men to be involved and supportive to their spouses because breastfeeding can be very emotional for women.

“My wife became very depressed when she wasn’t lactating well. Men have to understand what women are going through,” he said.

From the nurse teaching a new mum how to breastfeed to the elderly women advising and encouraging her to take liquids that will help her milk flow well, nursing mothers need support to enable them to breastfeed their babies as they should. Many mothers want to practice exclusive breastfeeding, but they don’t have the requisite support. While many start the process, only few are able to do it for six months.

“It is very exhaustive but it’s worth it. At times, I’ll be discouraged but with my husband’s encouragement, I continued,” Faith said. “There was a time I told myself I was going to stop at four months but when the time came; my husband started begging me to continue,” she added. According to the founder of Milky Express (who is also a lactation consultant), it takes the entire society to make exclusive breastfeeding possible.

“The entire community must learn to be baby-friendly. We must have more nurses who understand the nitty-gritty of breastfeeding. We need more offices to create mother-friendly rooms where mothers can express, and the government should extend our maternity periods.”

She also said that women need to be educated on the nitty-gritty of breastfeeding. According to her, a woman may beat herself up over some breastfeeding difficulties if she is not aware of the things happening in her body.

A medical doctor at the Lagos State Hospital, said some women may find it hard to lactate because of the lack of knowledge of how milk production works. She said that sometimes, it might be difficult for breast milk to flow well if the baby is not properly positioned. According to her, a baby being breastfed should grab the whole of the areola instead of the nipple. “Eating habits affect the flow of breast milk,” The doctor said, noting that what the mother eats make up the content of the breast milk. She also noted that it is hard for a woman that is stressed, depressed and not well hydrated to produce milk. While lactation products like cookies, granules and teas are introduced to aid milk flow, not everybody can afford the products. The Lagos State Hospital doctor said mothers should know the foods that helps them to lactate, describing the intake of fluids, carbohydrates and proteins as critical to milk production. The lactation consultant said working mums should dedicate some time to breastfeed their babies, adding, “A little breast milk goes a long way.” According to her, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to breastfeeding, as different women have different experiences. For women who complain of nipple injury, she said, “The shape of your nipple can cause a bad latch; how the baby’s mouth is formed can also cause a bad latch. Nipples come in different shapes just like breasts come in different sizes.”

The Chief Administrator and HR officer of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, shared an important message with young mothers who are scared of sagging breasts.

“Don’t listen to mythical beliefs. If you breastfeed your child, your breast will not fall. If your breast will bow to the law of gravity, it will bow whether you breastfeed a child or not.”

Practicing exclusive breastfeeding may be challenging, however its benefits to children cannot be over emphasised.

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