Powers that be, let’s invest in getting gold

Dear Powers that be:

I followed the Olympics closely this year and was fascinated by the extent to which the human body can go: given the right investment. Athletes go through so much: sacrifice, training and mental stress to achieve excellence. So much investment in their quest for gold. And when the gun is fired, whether they are ready or not, regardless of how much investment went into the training, it’s time to take off.

I sometimes wonder how much we invest in our team. Looking at the kind of events we feature in shows clearly where our interest is and that is where we will invest. Well, there’s another critical race going on that we need to seriously invest in. One that affects us all if the athletes don’t take the gold. It’s the race of life. The race for national development.

I am a paediatrician. I speak for our future.
You see, national development has a lot to do with the nutrition of the child within the first 1000 days of life( from conception till around the 2nd year of life). But are we investing here?

The unborn baby relies on nutrients from his mum for his brain growth, for his vision, and his overall growth. If mum is deprived of certain nutrients like iodine, iron, lutein and DHA, her baby will be small, unhealthy and less intelligent. If his parents don’t talk and sing to him as he is in the womb, he loses out on some potential too.

Then the gun goes off and he is born. Born to run a race that he might not be adequately prepared for. But the beauty is that breastmilk levels the field. If baby is exclusively breastfed for six months and continues breastfeeding up to the age of 2 years, then we know his IQ will be higher, his resistance against diseases stronger and he is less likely to get diabetes and metabolic syndrome later in life.

He is less likely to die before the age of five years and is less likely to get respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and asthma. His mum benefits too since her risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancers are lowered and it serves as a natural family planning method. (however it doesn’t make her breasts fall flat like socks contrary to popular belief). In some cases, mum genuinely can’t breastfeed due to medical reasons but these are not common. On the whole, breastfeeding produces a stronger, healthier and more intelligent workforce.

So if breastfeeding brings all these benefits, and increases the chances of our young ones getting gold in their endeavours in life, endeavours that will affect us all since we will have a healthier and more intelligent population, then why are we not investing more in it? Maternity leave, breastfeeding rooms, breastmilk banks etc. Some people feel we shouldn’t talk about extending maternity leave and breastfeeding else people will be reluctant to employ women. Like seriously? Would you really deprive your country of national development? How unpatriotic.

Dear ‘powers that be’, if you could see the future and knew that the unborn baby snoozing cosily in the womb of the waakye seller outside your air-conditioned office will grow to be a crazy armed robber who will attack you 25 years from now, all because he didn’t get a good nutrition in the first 1000 days of his life, ended up with a low IQ, failed in school and dropped out… what would you do today? You would ensure his mum eats well. You would ensure he is exclusively breastfed. You would invest in him because he is important to YOUR future. Well take heed: The kind of nutrition we get within the first 1000 days of life is directly linked to failing grades, to dropping out of school, to earning less wages as an adult and even linked to the health of future families. That’s why regardless of who you are, regardless of your age or sex, whether you believe in breastfeeding or not, you need to protect it. It’s a shared responsibility. It affects us all. It’s a national responsibility.

World breastfeeding week just ended (1st -7th August) and did we do enough to ensure the young ones bring us the gold in life? Did we put a fridge in the restroom to ensure breastfeeding mums can get a place to store their milk? Did we create an area in the office so a breastfeeding worker could express or feed baby?

Did you give the best portion of the food to your wife who is breastfeeding (or you took the chicken thigh and gave her the wings? You just ate the national development bro!). Did you encourage a woman to continue exclusive breastfeeding for a just a few more months? Or you quickly recommended formula to her? (choosing money over national development) Did we make it easier for a mum to breastfeed?
May we do better henceforth.

Breastfeeding is more than just an issue of women.
Breastfeeding is more than just a child health issue.
Breastfeeding is an issue of national development.
Let’s put our money where our mouth is. Let’s put the investment where it matters.
‘Powers that be’, let’s invest in getting the gold.

Dr Adoma Dwomo-Fokuo Odame.

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