By Michael Eboh & Tochukwu Maxwell
ABUJA- THE Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, has called on the federal and state governments to increase maternity leave for nursing mothers from three months to six months.
In an interview with Vanguard in Abuja, Head of the Women and Youth Department of the NLC, Comrade Rita Goyit, stated that increasing the duration of the maternity leave would enable nursing mothers to breastfeed their newborn babies exclusively for six months.
Prior to the extension, Goyit said efforts should be made to create baby-friendly environments through the provision of crèches and childcare facilities at work places to enable mothers effectively care for the children.
She said: “We have a policy of six months breastfeeding in Nigeria, but maternity leave is three months. After three months, the women resume work. What of the other three months that she has to feed her child? Every organisation where there are women should provide crèches for them.
“Exclusive breastfeeding is very important to the child. The child that is well breastfed would be healthy. The child will have high Intelligence Quotient, IQ; the child will be very intelligent. When you breastfeed babies for six months, they will grow up very healthy and a healthy child makes a healthy nation.
“It is very important to breastfeed babies exclusively. They don’t get sick easily. If a child is not properly breastfed, the child would be prone to illnesses.”
Goyit also called on the federal and state governments to provide the necessary tools to help boost women’s productivity in the workplace.
She said: “The main goal of our campaign at this period is to help improve the productivity of the working women. When women start working, they spend all their productive life in their workplace. It is when they retire that they stop giving birth; when they are working, they are giving birth. To get the best out of them, you need to provide baby-friendly environment, crèches and childcare facilities.
In addition, Alive & Thrive, a Non-Governmental Organisation, in a report presented in Abuja, disclosed that Nigeria is home to seven per cent of all sub-optimally breastfed children in the world, noting that only 17 per cent of children under six months of age in Nigeria are exclusively breastfed.
The NGO further argued that given the fact that nearly half of all women in Nigeria are part of the labour force, improving maternity protections in Nigeria like extending paid maternity leave and workplace support for breastfeeding, would help boost the low rates of exclusive breastfeeding.
“Comprehensive maternity protections will help Nigerian mothers provide their infants with the very best start to life—leading to improved health, social and economic outcomes for Nigeria.
It is important to note that the Nigeria Labour Congress has a gender policy which clearly promotes the establishment of lactation rooms, crèches and other baby-friendly initiatives that support exclusive breastfeeding and the ability of women workers to continue to breastfeed their babies, ensuring the right nutrition for their babies even when the mothers return to work,” it said.
The NGO explained that maternity leave entitlements vary across the public and private sectors in Nigeria, adding that the Federal Ministry of Health, Alive &Thrive and UNICEF are undertaking a nationwide survey on maternity benefits in the public, private and informal sectors.
It said the outcomes of the survey will provide an evidence base to guide policy decisions and implementation on maternity benefits in Nigeria.