UNICEF urges breastfeeding support in all work places

Samuel Luka, Bauchi

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has advocated for greater breastfeeding support across all work places in Nigeria.

The call was contained in a press statement issued to newsmen by Anike Alli-Hakeem, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria to mark the 2023 world breastfeeding week on Tuesday.

Titled, ‘A Lifeline for Children and Economies: The Urgent Call for Greater Breastfeeding Support Across All Workplaces, the statement featured Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative urging the Nigerian Governments, both states and federal to take decisive actions to ensure supportive breastfeeding for all working mothers.

“As the world marks World Breastfeeding Week, I am calling upon the Nigerian Federal and State governments and employers to take decisive actions to ensure a supportive breastfeeding environment for all working mothers, including those in the formal and informal sector”, the statement said.

“Breastmilk is the first vaccine and the first food that every child receives at birth which stands as a crucial pillar in safeguarding infants against life-threatening infections, supporting optimal brain development in children, and reducing the incidence of chronic childhood and maternal illnesses, ultimately lowering healthcare costs”, the statement explained.

It described ‘Breastmilk as not just a super-food and vaccine, but also a smart investment, adding that Global analysis revealed that elevating rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of an astounding 820,000 children under the age of five annually.

The statement further noted that the feat will generate an additional income of US $302 billion, saying, in Nigeria, improved breastfeeding practices could save over 100,000 children’s lives each year, save US$22 million in health care treatment costs related to inadequate breastfeeding.

The statement explained that the move can generate an additional US$21 billion for the economy over children’s productive years by increasing cognitive capacity and preventing premature mortality in the early years.

“There is evidence today that every 1000 Naira invested in supporting breastfeeding can yield an estimated 35,000 Naira in economic returns for Nigeria”, the statement said.

The statement while acknowledging significant strides made in the past two decades in Nigeria to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates, said it is evident that more needs to be done.

It added that, presently, only 7 out of 36 states provide six months fully paid maternity leave and only 34 percent of children aged 0 to 6 months are exclusively breastfed as recommended by UNICEF.

“Nigeria is still far from reaching the World Health Assembly 70 percent target by 2030.
Presently, women make up 20 million out of the 46 million workforce in Nigeria; 95 per cent are within the informal sector, while the formal sector only employs 5 per cent”, the statement revealed.

“Shockingly, only 9 per cent of organizations 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”, it added.

According to the UNICEF, to facilitate progress, it is essential for governments and businesses to play their part by providing the necessary support to mothers and caregivers.

UNICEF recommended that there should be policies that support 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 exclusively breastfeeding for six months, followed by age-appropriate complementary feeding while breastfeeding continues to two years and beyond.

The statement further called for investment in breastfeeding support policies and programs in all settings, especially during crises and in food-insecure regions.

While reiterating the need to ensure the well-being of children and the progress of the society, UNICEF called for collective work towards a future where breastfeeding is supported and embraced by all, resulting in healthier generations and a thriving Nigerian workforce.

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