Failure or refusal to give your baby breast milk has been described as amounting not only to denying the child of its fundamental human rights but also a sin against God, experts on nutrition and breastfeeding have warned.

This view was expressed by experts at the one day multi-zonal media dialogue with journalists on 2021 World Breastfeeding Week organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State, held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

The media dialogue, whose theme was, ‘Protect Breastfeeding, A Shared Shared Responsibility’, drew participants from Abia, Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, and dwelt primarily on issues relating to prospects and progress of breastfeeding initiative in Nigeria as well as how the media can support advocacy in order to improve implementation of Breastfeeding Policies Action Plan vis-a-vis commitments by stakeholders including media practitioners.

Giving an overview of the breastfeeding initiative in Nigeria, in terms of prospects and challenges, Mrs. Ngozi Onuorah, Nutrition Specialist, UNICEF Rivers Field Office, stressed that both the mother and the government would be guilty of a serious offence by standing in the way of the newborn to be breastfed exclusively for six months, beginning from the first hour of birth, and up to two years or more.

“It is a sin for a mother to deny a child breast milk,” Onuorah stressed, adding, “And, it is a crime for the government to invest in and encourage breastfeeding advocacy and policy implementation initiatives; because breastfeeding initiative is a shared responsibility.”

She described breastmilk without external water as a natural and perfectly nutritious food prepared by God Almighty for the baby or infant over a period of nine months until the baby was born, urging mothers and fathers, and indeed all Nigerians to take more active interest in talking about healthy children through promotion of exclusive breastfeeding.

“Media practitioners, and journalists in particular, should not only firmly turn down any offer of souvenirs from companies and marketers of breasmilk alternatives, they should take more active part in promoting babyfriendly institutions and ensuring that specific budget approvals are duly released and accountably applied,” the UNICEF nutrition specialist stressed.

In his presentation, Dr. Victor Bassey, Head of Nutrition Division, Akwa Inom State Ministry of Health, Uyo, corroborated the expert opinion of Mrs. Onuorah, saying that the fact that it is a sin not to feed the baby with breast milk is supported in the Holy Bible in Lamentations 4:3-6, urging Nigerians to follow God’s injunctions by learning from lower mammals, which ensure that their young ones are breastfed exclusively.

Similarly, Dr. Bassey also referred to Genesis chapter two, verses five to seven to underscore the importance of not introducing the baby or infant to water from external sources other than breast milk, just as he quoted specifically from the book of Ist Samuel 1:23 from the story of Prophet Samuel’s father, Elkanah and his wife.

On the occasion of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, which is observed annually in the first week of August, UNICEF noted, “At the start of this year, governments, donors, civil society and the private sector united to launch the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action. The Year of Action is a historic opportunity to transform the way the world tackles the global commitment to eliminate child malnutrition,” stressing that “breastfeeding is central to realising this commitment.”

UNICEF and the WHO have, however expressed worry that “the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the fragility of those gains” or progress made in the last four decades “with a 50 per cent increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding globally,” calling for intensified action by making the breastfeeding initiative a shared responsibility.