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Breast milk in short supply

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A report on the State of Reproductive Health in Ghana released by the Reproductive and Child Health Unit (RCH) of the Family Health Directorate (FHD) of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) in October, this year indicated that the country’s drive towards achieving exclusive breastfeeding of newborns has slowed down drastically in the last few years.


This has led to fears that Ghana’s fight against infant mortality will become more challenging if urgent steps are not taken to encourage mothers to feed their babies with breast milk exclusively for the first six months.
Exclusive breastfeeding refers to feeding children who are less than six months old with breast milk alone (no other liquids) within 24-hour periods.
The report, put together by Dr Patrick K. Aboagye, Deputy Director, RCH of FHD, showed that in 1993 only seven per cent of mothers practised exclusive breastfeeding. Five years later in 1998, the percentage increased to 31; in 2003 it rose to 53 and then shot up to 63 per cent in 2008.
However, the percentage of mothers feeding their babies exclusively with breast milk fell sharply from 63 in 2008 to 46 per cent in 2011. The data for 2012 was not ready at the time of the release of the report.
The target for exclusive breastfeeding for 2012, The Mirror learnt, was 70 per cent, but there are doubts about its achievement.
A consultant family physician at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Dr Roberta Lamptey Nartey, told The Mirror that, “Going by the data in the report, it means that more newborns are being exposed to diarrhoea, malnutrition and their immune systems are also being compromised”.
This, she said, was because the breast milk contains the right elements that help the babies to grow healthily as they contain the ingredients needed to protect the child from diseases.
Dr Lamptey Nartey called for conscious efforts by institutions to provide places for nursing mothers to conveniently breastfeed their babies.
“They should be baby friendly and allow nursing mothers to close from work early and go home on time to feed their babies,” she added.
She also advised the mothers to avoid stress because it causes the supply of the breast milk to go down thus denying the baby the right amounts when needed.
In a recent presentation of a paper on the topic “Promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, role of stakeholders” at a day’s advocacy meeting held at the Institute of Local Government Studies in Tamale, Alhaji A. B. Yakubu, the Northern Regional Health Promoter, was quoted as saying that Ghana's quest to meet the Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015 will be an exercise in futility if common health hazards including the astronomical increase in infant mortality and maternal cases are not addressed.
 He therefore underscored the need for all the major stakeholders such as Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to place premium on measures that had been instituted to curb this menace by allocating enough resources for advocacy programmes meant to promote exclusive breastfeeding in Ghana.
He disclosed that 1,600 infant mortality cases were recorded annually in Ghana, pointing out that the three northern regions had been the worst affected areas.
Though Ghana’s labour laws have some provisions for pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, they do not necessarily support exclusive breastfeeding.
According to the law, Act 2003, pregnant women after their period of confinement are entitled to a minimum of 12 weeks’ (three months’) leave with full pay. Such a worker, in addition, is also entitled to her annual leave (which is usually less than two months) with full pay.
“In case of abnormal delivery, a woman worker's maternity leave should be extended to at least two more weeks,” the law says, but it still does not cater for the six-month period that mothers are expected to use to exclusively breastfeed their babies.
Though nursing mothers are entitled to interrupt their work for an hour each day to nurse their babies for up to one year, most of them are not able to take advantage of this provision in the law because many workplaces do not have nurseries attached to them or even close by.
Working fathers are also unable to effectively support their nursing partners because the law has no provision for paternity leave. However, in practice some collective agreements provide such a facility for staff, usually a maximum of one week, which is woefully inadequate for the fathers to help care for the newborn.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two or beyond.
According to the WHO, exclusive breastfeeding of infants with only breast milk, and no other foods or liquids, for six months has several advantages over exclusive breastfeeding for three to four months followed by mixed breastfeeding.
These advantages include a lower risk of gastrointestinal infection for the baby, more rapid maternal weight loss after birth, and delayed return of menstrual periods.
Over the years, experts have established that breastfeeding helps lay the foundations of a healthy life for a baby – and it is good for the mothers’ health and wellbeing too as it helps them to recover after birth.
Skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding is also said to be a wonderful way to start intimately connecting with one’s baby.
Breastfeeding, experts claim,  reduces the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer. It may also reduce mothers’ risk of ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and hip fracture later in life; and may also help  them to lose weight gained during pregnancy.

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