The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that current evidence indicates that it is unlikely that Covid-19 will be transmitted through breastfeeding.
It, therefore, noted that the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the need for stronger measures to support exclusive breastfeeding.
In a statement to mark the year 2020 World Breastfeeding Week with the themed “Supporting breastfeeding for a healthier planet,” the UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said: “The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, like most emergencies, leaves families with children in an extremely vulnerable position.
“Given the present lack of evidence that transmission of the virus could occur through breast milk, we recommend that mothers should be encouraged to initiate and continue to breastfeed their babies while observing good hygiene practices.”
While insisting that breastfeeding is the safest during and after Covid-19, Hawkins reiterated that: “Through strengthened policy provisions and increased investment for breastfeeding, we can ensure that mothers in Nigeria are empowered to breastfeed their babies.
“Breastfeeding is still the safest during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.”
UNICEF and WHO have recommended that babies be fed only breast milk for their first 6 months, after which they should continue breastfeeding – as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods – until 2 years of age or beyond.
Currently, only 29 percent of Nigerian children between the ages of 0 to 6 months are exclusively breastfed.
UNICEF, however, cautioned that breast milk substitutes such as infant formula, other milk products, and beverages not only contribute negatively to the health and development of the child, but also to environmental degradation and climate change.
“Breast milk, on the other hand, is natural, and is the only food a baby needs in the first 6 months of life,” it reiterated.
The UNICEF, therefore, called on relevant agencies to strictly enforce adherence to the national regulation on the Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions by putting to a stop to the unwholesome marketing of breast milk substitutes. Civil society organizations should also not seek or accept donations of breastmilk substitutes in emergency situations.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, availability and increased access to health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families is essential.
“Efforts must be made to increase investment in maternal, infant, and child nutrition interventions at the community level support and to implement policies that support maternity leave for 6 months in the public sector, and an enabling environment for breastfeeding in the private sector.
“Advocacy for paid paternity leave must also continue to ensure full participation of both parents in the early moments of the child,” the statement said.
Breast milk, UNICEF further noted, saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood illnesses.