The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has advocated for six months paid maternity leave for working nursing mothers as part of efforts to improve workplace policies to boost breastfeeding.
UNICEF declared that babies who are not breastfed are 14 times more likely to die before they reach their first birthday than babies who are exclusively breastfed.
The Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Nigeria, Bauchi Field Office, Dr. Tushar Rane, in a goodwill message he delivered during a Media Dialogue on World Breastfeeding Week, 2023, held at Jamil Hotel and Suites, Azare, on thursday, said family-friendly workplace policies such as paid maternity leave, breastfeeding breaks and a room where mothers can breastfeed, could also have huge benefits for employers.
He said the government and employers must provide the needed assistance for mothers and caregivers including those in the informal sector or on temporary contracts to conveniently breastfeed or support breastfeeding.
According to him, “We must promote policies that encourage breastfeeding, such as paid maternity leave for six months, as well as paid paternity leave, flexible return-to-work options, regular lactation breaks during working hours and adequate facilities that enable mothers to continue exclusive breastfeeding for six months.”
The UNICEF Chief of Field Office who stressed that babies who are not breastfed are 14 times more likely to die before they reach their first birthday than babies who are exclusively breastfed pointed out that, “It is the mainstay for safeguarding infants against life-threatening infections, it supports optimal brain development in children, especially in the first 1,000 days and it ultimately lowers healthcare costs.
“We understand that optimal infant feeding is a cornerstone for human capital development while poor Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices bear major risks to child survival and socio-economic growth.”
Rane, stressed that World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year to reiterate the importance of breastfeeding for children, mothers, and socio-economic development saying that, “Breastmilk is the first vaccine for every child.”
He explained that this year’s World Breastfeeding Week brought attention to workplace breastfeeding, pointing out that women make up 20 million out of the 46 million workforces in Nigeria with 95 per cent within the informal sector, while the formal sector only employs five per cent.
“Shockingly, only nine per cent of organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, with only 1.5 per cent in the public sector. Women in the informal sector have nearly no support for breastfeeding.
“Workplace challenges to breastfeeding are one of the primary factors responsible for early cessation of breastfeeding. Women require sufficient time and support to breastfeed successfully.
“For working mothers, juggling between tasks and breastfeeding may be nearly impossible.
“Nigeria currently implements two maternity entitlement provisions. The first, which is recognised at all levels of public service and codified in the Nigerian Labour Act, provides up to 12 weeks of maternity leave with at least 50 per cent of salary and, upon return to work, half an hour twice a day during working hours to breastfeed,” he said.
He added: “The second, recently adopted by the Federal Public Service and yet to be ratified by the states and local government civil service is a 16-week maternity leave provision with full pay and two hours off each day to breastfeed up to six months after the employee resumes duty.”
He, however, said government and employers must provide the needed assistance for mothers and caregivers including those in the informal sector or on temporary contracts to conveniently breastfeed or support breastfeeding.
“We must promote policies that encourage breastfeeding, such as paid maternity leave for six months, as well as paid paternity leave, flexible return-to-work options, regular lactation breaks during working hours and adequate facilities that enable mothers to continue exclusive breastfeeding for six months,” he suggested.
Also speaking, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Philomena Irene, pointed out that delaying breastfeeding by two to 23 hours after birth increases the risk of a baby dying in the first 28 days of his or her life by 40 per cent.
In a paper titled, “Breast milk: the life preserving Super food for babies; trends in breastfeeding in Bauchi field office states,” Irene explained that breastfeeding leads to decreased morbidity and mortality for children and their mothers.
Irene, stressed that well breastfed babies are healthier and have chances of becoming healthy teenagers and adults, adding that there would be a reduction in delinquency and other psychosocial problems in such children.
She said breast milk remains affordable, accessible such that every mother can afford it, adding that breastfeeding protects the environment against been littered with infant food containers as well as save cost in the production of feeds.
According to her, breastfeeding help economically by saving foreign exchange from importation of breast milk Substitutes (BMS) and feeding utensils, health costs and hospital trips.
“Exclusive breastfeeding has the potential to save more children’s lives than any other preventive intervention”, she said.
“Breastfed children have at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non breastfed children,” Irene added.
She further noted that an exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child.
Irene who revealed that low breastfeeding rates contribute to increased sickness, thereby incurring higher care and treatment costs, said the production, packaging, storing, distribution and preparation of infant formula contributes to environmental damage and increased expenditure for families.
On his part, the Executive chairman of Bauchi state Primary Health Care Development Agency (BSPHCDA), Dr. Rilwanu Mohammed, said efforts were ongoing to formulate policies towards supporting nursing mothers with six months maternity leave to encourage exclusive breastfeeding.
In his contribution, Chairman, House Committee on Health of the Bauchi State House of Assembly (BAHA), Hon Lawal Dauda said that plans are on the way to enact a law to increase maternity leave from three months to six months.