2023 World Breastfeeding Week: Role of Parents in Child’s Development

By Obiotika Wilfred Toochukw

World Breastfeeding Week aims to highlight the huge benefits that breastfeeding can bring to the health and welfare of babies, benefits to maternal health; focusing on good nutrition, poverty reduction, and food security. World breastfeeding week has the dual goal of improving the health of babies and promoting, protecting and supporting the rights of women to breastfeed anywhere and at any time.

The celebration started in 1992 in more than 120 countries and it is held in the first week (01 – 07) of August every year. It is supported by WHO (World Health Organization), UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), many Ministries of Health and Civil Society Partners.

The theme of this year’s celebration is: ‘Let’s Make breastfeeding and Work, work!’

The rates of exclusively breastfed infants at one week of age decreased from 89% in 2004 to 75% in 2017 and from 19 to 13% at 6 months. Mothers have various wishes regarding breastfeeding support. Mothers need to feel safe, and they want consistent advice about breastfeeding with practical support, in which positive attitudes towards breastfeeding from midwives are important.

WHO and UNICEF recommend that children are initiated to breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life.

Breastfeeding plays a crucial role in ensuring the proper growth and development of a child. It is celebrated every year to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. Increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels could save more than 700,000 lives every year, the majority being children under six months.

Breastfeeding promotes better health for mothers and children alike. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It is estimated that increased breastfeeding could avert 20,000 maternal deaths every year.

In addition, the role of parents in a child’s development does not just end at infancy; it continues through toddlerhood, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence and the rest. It has to be noted that the cost associated with not breastfeeding far outweighs that of breastfeeding.

Breast milk is the primary source for all the nutritional needs in the initial few months of an infant’s life. It prevents the child from severe diseases. It is also critical to achieving many of the newly announced Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The year 2023 theme is important because of the challenges nursing mothers face at the workplace and shorter maternity leaves. It is strategic to be mindful that parents, caregivers and educators play a very crucial role in the development of any child.

The child’s psychology is the child’s development processes from birth to the end of adolescence. A child is quite different from an adult and this is what every parent must understand as they train and bring up their children.

Furthermore, early childhood experiences from birth to age 8 affect the development of the brain’s architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behaviour and health. A strong foundation helps children develop the skills they need to become well-functioning adults. The emotional, social and physical development of young children have  direct effects on their overall development and on the adult they will become.

Research has consistently shown that good early childhood development will have a direct positive impact on a child’s long-term outcomes and will improve future opportunities, school attainment and even earning potential. Early childhood development is a period of great opportunity, but also one of great vulnerability. The raising environment poses a threat to the child’s potentials as well.

Parents are the first teachers of a child. Breastfeeding your child helps in the initial bonding between a mother and child. A teacher only plays a second role in children education. Parents and caregivers make sure children are healthy and safe, equip them with skills and resources to succeed as adults, and transmit basic cultural values to them. Parents and caregivers offer their children love, acceptance, appreciation, encouragement and guidance. They provide the intimate context for nurturing and protection.

Kids learn first things at home with their parents. The bond of affection between parents and children is necessary for a healthy parent-child relationship. Research has shown that warm, open and communicative relationship between parents and children are associated with higher self-esteem, better performance in school and fewer negative outcomes such as depression or drug abuse in children and teenagers. This does not exclude appropriate limits, reasoning for rules for behaviour.

Matter of fact, parents can shape their children’s personality by training them to explore new things. Exploring new things interests children and generates curiosity and excitement in them. This makes them independent and well-rounded. Parents educate their children that becoming good at something new involves making mistakes.

To shape the child’s personality, the parents should teach lessons of assertiveness, maturity and importance of being physically fit. Some studies have found a direct association between parental knowledge and child outcomes including reduced behavioural challenges. As a parent, you influence your child’s basic values, like religious values, and issues related to their future, like education choices.

The role of parents in child development is responsive, responsible and never-ending. Parenting and child development go hand in hand. It is always said that the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Moreover, factors influencing child’s development include genetics, environment and parenting style. Healthy development in the early years (particularly birth to 3years) provides the building block for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities, and successful parenting of the next generation. A child’s early years are the foundation for his or her future development, providing a strong base for lifelong learning and learning abilities, including cognitive and social development.

We must not fail to mention the impact of culture, socio-economic status, family dynamic on a child’s growth. All over Africa, there is political unrest, instability, insecurity and poverty. The case of Nigeria where the new government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu removed subsidy on energy, increased taxes, tariffs and cost of living is worrisome.

Automatically, it has a direct impact on child’s training and growth. The children of today are the generation of adults tomorrow. Children are therefore not nonentities; they are young human beings.  How often do our personal priorities, leadership philosophies, or economic policies demonstrate little regard for those in distress?

Today there is a tendency on the part of some parents to try and make their children grow up too quickly. They rush them through the milestones of childhood and thrust them into the turmoil of adolescence. Developmental psychologist Dr. David Elkind, called this cultural phenomenon the ‘Hurried Child Syndrome’.

It happens when parents encourage their children to act like teenagers, such as buying make-up for pre-school girls, allowing early-teenage dating, treating kids more like grown-ups, expecting them to make adult-level choices, dressing them in designer clothes, and especially, subjecting them to graphic sexuality in television, music videos, movies and the internet.

Years ago, parents understood the necessity of a safe and orderly progression through childhood. Parents knew that play can involve all of a child’s senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste) and through play, children develop a number of skills; including problem-solving, creativity, expression of emotions and socialization.

Importantly, play helps a child develop self-confidence and self-worth, by strengthening attachment with parents and caregivers. There were cultural markers that defined the ages at which specific behaviours and activities were deemed appropriate or inappropriate. Today these markers have vanished, or they have been moved downwards. And it can be a big mistake.

When you treat your children as if they’re already grown, it becomes very challenging to set limits on their adolescent behaviour in the near future. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction (discipline) will drive it far from him. If parents do not discipline their children when they are young, it will be too late to discipline them when they are old.

In conclusion, as the holidays stay, parents have more time to spend with their children. This does not entail only satisfying their nutritional/health needs, parents must cater for the cognitive, emotional and social needs of their children. Time must be created to teach, learn and grow with the kids.

Parenting does not end at breastfeeding infants; it is an ongoing process, challenge and partnership. The reward of training our children is greater than the suffering, disappointment and pain associated with raising kids. In as much as parents learn to nurture their babies, successful breast feeding is an important child rearing skill to be learnt and practiced.

Obiotika Wilfred Toochukwu writes from Lagos – Nigeria