The first six month growth and illness of exclusively and non-exclusively breast-fed infants in Nigeria.East Afr Med J 2004; 81(3):146-53EA
To compare the growth and illness pattern of infants who were exclusively breast fed for six months with those of infants commenced on complementary feeding before the age of six months and ascertain reasons for the early introduction of complementary feeding.
A comparative prospective study.
Urban Comprehensive Health Centre (UCHC), Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals Complex, Ile-Ife.
Three hundred and fifty-two mothers and their normal birth weight babies, weighing 2.500kg or more, and aged less than 14 days were serially recruited into the study.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES
Mean/median monthly weights in the first six months of life, history/outpatient presentation for illnesses.
Of the 352 mother-infant pairs recruited into the study, 345 (98%) were successfully followed up for the first six months of life. At six months, 264 (76.5%) were exclusively breast-fed, 45 (13.1%) were started on complementary feeding, between the ages of four and six months while 36 (10.4%) commenced complementary feeding before the age of four months. Infants who were exclusively breast-fed for six months had median weights above the 50th percentiles of the WHO/NCHS reference that is currently used in the national "road to health" (growth monitoring) cards. Furthermore, the mean weight of these babies at age six months was above those of babies who started complementary foods before six months. They also reported fewer symptoms and had fewer illness episodes (0.1 episodes per child) compared to those who started complementary feeding before six months. Infants who commenced complementary feeding before four months reported more symptoms and had more illness episodes (1.4 episodes per child) compared to those that commenced complementary feeding between four and six months (1.2 episodes per child). Common symptoms/illnesses seen or reported during the study among the groups were fever, diarrhoea and cough. Reasons given for early introduction of complementary foods include insufficient breast milk, thirst and convenience.
It is concluded that exclusive breast-feeding supported adequate growth during the first six months of life for most of the infants studied. Early introduction of complementary foods did not provide any advantages in terms of weight gain in our environment, it was frequently associated with illness episodes and growth faltering. Many mothers however require support, encouragement and access to health care providers to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life.