The commemoration of World Breastfeeding Week in Abuja highlighted the need for working class and full-time mothers to prioritize breastfeeding their children. Calls have been made for the Nigerian government to approve a six-month maternity leave to allow mothers to provide optimal care for their children and exclusively breastfeed them. It is also suggested that four-week paternity leave should be granted to men to support their wives after childbirth. The event emphasized the importance of creating an enabling environment in workplaces for breastfeeding, including the provision of breastfeeding-friendly infrastructure and policies. Sensitization programs are also needed to raise awareness of breastfeeding among young girls and prospective mothers.
At the commemoration of this year’s world breastfeeding week in Abuja, the Director and Head of Micronutrient Deficiency Control, Federal Ministry of Health, Chief John Uruakpa John said there was need to encourage both working class and full time mothers to breastfeed their children.
Chief John made the call in line with the theme for the ceremony, “enabling breastfeeding, making a difference for working parents.”
This comes amidst calls for nursing mothers and their husbands to prioritize the times spent with their new borns while encouraging optimum breastfeeding for a healthy development of their children.
To this regard, there are speculations the federal government may approve a six-month maternity leave for nursing mothers as this would enable them provide optimal care for their children and exclusively breastfeed them for the period.
These speculations arose after Hajiya Fatima Umar Bago, wife of the Niger State governor, endorsed pleas to the federal government seeking an extension of the maternity leave for new mothers from three months to six while advocating four-week paternity leave for men to enable them support their wives after childbirth.
The governor’s wife called on organisations to prioritise the creation of enabling environment that supports working class mothers to be able to breastfeed their children, noting that breastfeeding children exclusively for six months provides immense benefits including protection from infections and diseases, development of the brain and cognitive capacities, and growth of children, among other benefits.
Speaking at the flag-off of the 2023 World Breastfeeding Week in Niger State, Bago said it was embarrassing how women breastfeed in public places adding that cretches should be created at workplaces to put an end to such practice.
She appealed to employers of labour to make workplaces breastfeeding friendly in terms of infrastructure and policy drive, particularly as more women are taking up employment opportunities to support the economy and livelihood of their families.
“I will make myself available to advocate with relevant stakeholders to implement exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life of a baby, continued breastfeeding with appropriate complimentary food for up to two years and beyond, extension of maternity leave from there to six months and the initiation and approval of four weeks paternity leave for our men.” Bago then called for more sensitization to create awareness for breastfeeding among young girls and prospective mothers in order to reduce infant and child mortality in the state.
Still in Niger, the Executive Director, State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr Ibrahim Dangana, said, “the evolving global workplace has seen a lot of women engaged in one form of employment or another.
“The engagement of women in a trade or employment is a positive development, but this is taking a toll on the quality of breastfeeding in terms of duration and frequency.
“Work or any form of employment should not separate the nursing mother from her baby.
“The State Government is committed to providing the resources and championing the best practices for workplace-related breastfeeding support in all 25LGAs across different contract types and sectors, and promoting actions that can be taken to help ensure breastfeeding works for all women who work, wherever they work.
“The Government of Niger State is restructuring all workplaces private and public to enable nursing mothers to breastfeed and work.”
Also speaking, the state Nutrition Officer, Asmau Abubakar Mohammed, said the state breastfeeding rate had increased from 14.7 per cent to 24.7 per cent, Vitamin A Supplementation is at 92 per cent while the state operates 16 Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) centres and there are Community Infant and Young Child Feeding initiative in 17 local government areas.
He called on the men to support their wives in breastfeeding saying that their support would help the women to carry out exclusive breastfeeding.
Mohammed appealed to the state government to create more creches and nursing rooms in all MDAs across the state, saying that the available ones were inadequate.
“We need these creches and nursing rooms in each block that houses Ministries, Departments or Agencies so that the women would not need to walk long distances to breastfeed or check on their breastfeeding children,” he said
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Meanwhile, Chief John Uruakpa who spoke in Abuja on behalf of the government said:
“We also want to get the men involved to provide the enabling environment.
“It is, however, not a matter of just breastfeeding; you must exclusively breastfeed your child for six months for you to get the best out of that breast milk.
He said according to the last National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) of 2018, “we have up to 90 per cent of Nigerian women breastfeeding. So, if you minus 29 per cent, you will see that you have almost 60 per cent adding water.
“If we can sensitise this section adding water to stop adding water, then Nigeria will get up to 90 per cent.
“We encourage organisations to provide an environment that will enable our mothers to breastfeed. That is why the government in its wisdom has approved 16 weeks maternity leave, and we are pushing for six months, which we are getting food feelers, and it will soon be approved.
“Even at that, some states have approved six months, and even given the fathers paternity leave of two weeks. Also, the fathers are pushing for more, say four weeks.”
Also at the event was a representative of Breakthrough Action Nigeria, a USAID-funded Project, Angela Samba who cautioned mothers to not only breastfeed, but do so appropriately.
Angela said, “the goal of our project is to increase the practice of priority health and nutrition behaviour, which breastfeeding is one of them.
“The workplace has a very significant role to play in ensuring that mothers are able to breastfeed effectively.
“In Nigeria, a lot of mothers breastfeed, yet our stunting rate is very high. The reason is that although mothers breastfeed, they don’t breastfeed appropriately.
“We are advocating optimal breastfeeding.”