The Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum and other stakeholders on Tuesday called for the implementation of six months maternity leave policy to encourage exclusive breastfeeding in the country.
The wife of the Kwara state governor, Dr. Olufolake Abdulrazak, who represented the NGWF, stated this during a briefing ceremony organised by the Federal Ministry of Health and other partners in Abuja in commemoration of the 2023 World Breastfeeding.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Enabling Breastfeeding: Making a Difference for Working Parents.’’
Mrs. Abdulrazak said the forum will partner with others to champion the advocacy, which will improve the health and well-being of mother and child, as well as eliminate malnutrition in the country, thereby reducing the infant mortality rate.
She acknowledged the challenges working mothers face to provide the best care for their children and stressed the need for implementation of policies that will ensure babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months and complementary fed for at least two years.
Mrs. Abdulrazak said, “Breastfeeding plays an integral part in the healthy development of infants and we must all come together to create an enabling environment that supports and encourages this natural practice.
“In the NGWF, we are wholeheartedly dedicated to championing the cause of breastfeeding and improving the lives of women and children across our nation.
“ We are proud to announce that we have taken a significant step forward by signing a statement of commitment to provide support through effective advocacies for improved nutrition in the country.’’
While advocating for realistic budgeting, and timely release of funds for nutrition, Mrs. Abdulrazak said the NWGF was committed to creating awareness on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, the establishment of creches in workspaces and advocating for six months of paid maternity leave.
On the issue of the prevalence of malaria, she disclosed that the disease went down in Kwara state to 20 per cent, which was lower than the 26 per cent recorded at the national average level.
UNICEF’s Chief Nutrition Officer, Dr. Nemat Hajeebhoy, said a child’s development is not complete at birth, but rather breastmilk facilitates the completion of the development, especially the brain.
She noted that the Convention on Child Rights stipulates their rights to access adequate nutrition, which begins at birth within the first hour of breastfeeding, stressing that it is very essential and serves as the first immunisation.
“It is the act of breastfeeding and the breast milk that enables growth for babies. A child’s development is not completed at birth; it is the breastmilk that helps the completion, especially in brain development.
“So enabling mothers and babies to be together once the child is born is no longer in the womb is each of our responsibility,’’ she said.
Dr. Hajeebhoy explained that Nigeria had over 18 million employed women, but only nine per cent of organisations offer breastfeeding support, hence the need for employers to implement policies that would promote breastfeeding.
“We are asking employers to offer six months maternity leave, set up safe spaces in the offices so that a mother can go and breastfeed her child and offer some flexible working arrangement.’’
Also, the Country Representative, World Health Organisation, Dr. Walter Mulombo, said the 2023 WBW theme aims at raising awareness and to galvanize action that enables breastfeeding in the workspace.
“Enabling breastfeeding and supporting working parents is crucial for promoting optimum breastfeeding practices and ensuring the health and well-being for both infants and mothers.
“Support for breastfeeding increases women’s work motivation, attendance, satisfaction and productivity.
“It also provides vital health and nutritional benefits for children with positive lifelong impacts. Women shouldn’t be left to choose between breastfeeding their children and their jobs,’’ he said.
Country Director, Nutrition International, Dr. Osita Okonkwo, said the organisation with support from partners in 2022, distributed over 20 million vitamin A supplements to states and has earmarked over 22 million to improve nutrition and reduce the prevalence of child and maternal mortality.
Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Adebiyi Folorunsho, while highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding, said only nine per cent of organisations in the country have a workplace breastfeeding policy.
Represented by Mrs. Boladale Alonge, Director in the ministry, he said breastfeeding provides energy, and nutrients for a child’s development and prevents the burden of malnutrition infectious diseases and mortality, while also reducing the risk of obesity and chronic diseases in later life.
He added that breastfeeding mothers are also protected from chronic diseases including breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, increases productivity at the workplace and saves monetary expenses.
“`Evidence has shown that women need adequate time and support to practice optimal breastfeeding. Lack of support in the workplace is one of the reasons, why women stop breastfeeding early,’’ he added.