Role of Media in changing negative perception on Exclusive Breastfeeding
By Bashir Hassan Abubakar
Medical experts around the world are of the view that exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) within the first six months of birth serves as a natural immunity to new-born children against being afflicted with certain diseases and prevent malnutrition in children.
Looking at this cheap and simple method of providing immunity to children, one would have thought that lactating mothers and care givers would imbibe the culture of the first six months exclusive breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, due to ignorance, cultural beliefs, norms and poverty, this cheap and easy method of fortifying the infants is a not being practiced as it should.
In the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, Child mortality is still high as a result of some of the factors enumerated above. Bauchi State, being part of the Northeast is contributing the bulk of this burden of Child mortality.
According to the 2021 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2021), early childhood death rates are higher in Bauchi State compared to the rates in the entire Northeast region and also at the National rate.
The 2021 MICS that was recently disseminated by UNICEF Bauchi Field office captured Bauchi as still having an alarming 45 neonatal mortality rate per 1000 live birth and under-five mortality rate of 153 per 1000.
Inadequate exclusive breastfeeding and malnutrition no doubt contributes to the above statistics. This is because the MICS 2021 also indicates that Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF) is still very low in Bauchi State, with only about 26.4 percent compliance. It shows that exclusive breastfeeding is lower than what is obtained at the Northeast region and the National of 34.0 from the region and 34.4 at the national level.
This frightening statistics may not be unconnected with the earlier enumerated negative factors that borders around misconception, cultural norms and values inherent in communities.
Role of Media in changing negative perception on Exclusive Breastfeeding
The role of media in advocating behavioural change has, over time, been identified as a key element in any campaign to have the buy-in of target audience. Perhaps this was what informed the decision of Bauchi Radio Corporation, with the support of UNICEF Field office Bauchi to hosts Journalists from the Northeast region to a media dialogue to promote awareness on importance of exclusive breastfeeding, as part of activities commemorating the world exclusive breastfeeding week in August 2022 in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.
During that media dialogue, UNICEF’s Nutrition specialist, Philomena Irene said that media practitioners are key drivers in community sensitization, education and mobilization, especially when it comes to behavioural change against negative practices among community members.
She said that, as part of the 2022 WBW, media is strategically engaged to support the dissemination of key messages on exclusive breastfeeding and infant nutrition amid the Covid-19 era.
While giving a broad objective of the meeting, the nutrition specialist said the media dialogue will seek to strengthen the capacity of media practitioners towards child-focused reporting, using exclusive breastfeeding approach for enhanced infant nutrition.
“We also want to expose the media to a first hand situation of malnourished children with a view to having a better and evidence based reportage and to leverage on the media as an advocacy channel for positive policies towards exclusive breastfeeding and child nutrition”, said Irene.
Part of the media dialogue then, was a field visit to Toro General Hospital in Bauchi State where the visiting journalists were exposed to a first hand information regarding non compliance to EBF and how it contributes to increased numbers of malnourished children in the LG, the State and the Country at large.
While welcoming the journalists to the Hospital, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Toro general hospital Dr. Adamu Alkali said that ignorance and cultural beliefs were largely responsible for low practice of EBF. He also said that media can contribute significantly in changing the perception of lactating mothers and care givers towards embracing EBF.
“It is a great development having journalists focusing on EBF with a view to changing some of the negative perception militating against this natural immunity to new-born and infants. In carrying out your advocacy through your different media platforms, efforts should be geared towards convincing care givers and grand parents on the advantages of EBF because most times it is those care givers that hinders the practice due to some unfounded beliefs regarding EBF. Some of these caregivers believed that placing a child on strict EBF turns the child into a wicked person when he or she grows up into an adult. We need to change that perception and journalists can complement what we are doing in that direction”, Dr. Alkali said.
Sharing more insights on the negative perception of caregivers, the visiting Journalists came across a grandmother Hauwa Salarma , whose grandchild , Suhaidat, was on admission due to malnutrition, the grandmother admitted that indeed sometimes quarrel ensured between their daughter in-laws and themselves on placing their grandchildren on strict EBF.
“You cannot deny a child from being given water when the child is thirsty. So, when lactating mothers insist on EBF, there is always quarrels among us”, said grandmother Hauwa.
To further buttress this negative perception and also give credence to how ignorance is militating against EBF, the nutrition officer of Toro General Hospital, Habibu Muhammad Abdurrahman said that when expectant mothers visits hospitals for ANC, health talk on EBF has always been part of the agenda, but that, because care givers don’t come with their spouses during such health talk sessions, they missed such opportunities to know the importance EBF.
On the effectiveness of EBF, Abdurrahman was emphatic saying, “there is no formula for new-borns that more nutritional than the breastmilk, because it contains all nutrients the baby needs for the first six months. This breastmilk is devoid of any contamination that affects infants health”.
A medical practitioner, Dr. Omotola Davis, at a UNICEF media engagement some time ago in Adamawa State, said exclusive breastfeeding for six months and complementary feeding is the way out of malnutrition in Nigeria, especially in the North East. 0Breastfeeding is the age long practice of feeding the infants seems not to be strictly adhered to, due to the demand of civilization. Some mothers do not actually believe in the positive effect of breastfeeding, and there are social and regional differences in breastfeeding practices regarded as normal and acceptable in different social settings, hence, the need for education on the importance of breastfeeding and complementary feeding for children especially under five
According to expert, “many factors influence the pattern of breastfeeding such as ignorance on the part of educated women who feels breastfeeding a child is outdated, its make your breast sagged and formula is a show of class”.
“However, the uneducated Women Even when given nutritional diet’s for their babies, they either sell or eat it due to extreme poverty. They are malnourished and give birth to a low weight baby”, said Davis.
As rightly pointed out above, more concerted efforts needs to be put in place by Bauchi State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, the Community and the Media with a view to advocating for EBF.
During the field visit to Toro General Hospital, our correspondent seek to hear the opinion of a lady (who was nursing her grandchild on malnutrition) at the paediatric ward on methods of carrying out such advocacies.
The lady, Rabi Abdullahi was of the opinion that role-modelling the infants that are exclusively breastfed against those that are not should be adopted during such advocacies.
“Nothing can be compared to seeing things physically with our own eyes. It is there in black and white. You compare those children on EBF and those that are not during advocacies, I am sure care givers would have a change of heart and start imbibing the practice. Because everyone wants to see his or her child healthy and it does not cost the care givers anything”, enthused Rabi.
Another avenue to explore, according to a service provider at the secondary health facility, Aisha Yunusa , is the engagement of more Volunteer Community Mobilizers (VCMs) to carrying out a sustain door-to-door awareness creation on the benefits of EBF. She also appealed to care givers to support their spouses anytime they inform them on the health talk they receive from health facilities.
For the nutrition officer of the hospital, the involvement of religious /community leaders in the advocacy campaign for EBF is another method of changing people’s perception on EBF.
It suffice to say EBF is a sure way of ensuring infant nutrition and immunity against other child killer diseases and efforts should be geared towards changing the narrative and negative perception shrouding the practice of this cheap, effective and efficient means of nutrition and immunity to new-born.