By Peter Duru – Makurdi
The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has advocated the provision of incentives by governments that will encourage the private sector to avail mothers six months maternity leave to ensure adequate breastfeeding of their babies.
The global organization stressed that such incentives should ensure that the absence of mothers from their duty posts within the said period would not negatively impact the profit margin of the concerned private sector organizations.
The Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Enugu, Dr. Ibrahim Conteh made the call yesterday in Enugu in his welcome remark at the One Day Zonal Media Dialogue on the Commemoration of the 2021 World Breastfeeding Week by UNICEF in Collaborating with Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State BCA, with the theme, Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility.
Dr. Conteh observed that no country can talk about healthy living without paying attention to the first feeding and nutrition that is given to the babies saying it was for that reason that adequate breastfeeding of children becomes very paramount in their lives.
He noted that it was for that reason that maternity leaves are given mothers in order to help them in breastfeeding their babies.
He recalled that “in the last few years, countries used to give women maternity leave of about three weeks, some one month, it went to two months, three months and now we have achieved six months.
“I think this has to go beyond the public sector. It has to also go to the private sector because it’s about equal rights; but we also know of a fact that government does not run the private sector and these are mostly profit making institutions.
“So losing a staff for six months, you can imagine how much gap that is economically, how much they are going to loss. But this is where government comes in to regulate.
“There could be regulations or incentives that would ensure that the private sector does not loss that much money either through taxes or some other means; and there are ways to do that so that when a staff is away for six month for maternity it is possible that the business do not suffer too much so that the profit margins of the private sector is not affected.
“So it comes back to the government because it is something that can be achieved.”
The Chief of Field Office disclosed that “this year all the stakeholders have come together to launch what we call the Nutrition for Growth Action Plan. And the foundation of that is breastfeeding, because you cannot talk about nutrition without talking about breastfeeding since that is the first nutrition when the child is born.
“So if we get it right from the beginning, we feel that all other things about nutrition will fall into place. And it’s all also complementary because the breast by its nature is designed by God, as we do believe. God has ensured that everything that a child needs is in that cholesterol for growth, for health and everything else. Which is why it is really very important and it is being emphasised even in the western world.
“Even scientists have studied and researched and proved that you can never compare complementary milk additive to the breast milk. There has never been any product that is 100 percent comparable to the breast milk and to the first day cholesterol.
“The content of that cannot be equalled to anything else. I know that in the West there are now comparable milk that they will give to the child to replace cholesterol but it is not the same. That is why even in the West they are promoting the idea of breastfeeding.
“You can only avoid breastfeeding if the mother for some health reason cannot do so. But we must ensure our children are breastfeed from the very beginning.
“I recall that as babies, our mothers gave us breast until we started walking around or even when the milk stops coming out from the breast. It is important that our mothers stick to breastfeeding of our babies for the health of our children.
“This is very important for the growth and development of the children, for the society and for everyone involved in ensuring the betterment of the society.”
Speaking on the overview of breastfeeding initiative in Nigeria and prospects, the Nutrition Manager, UNICEF Enugu, Dr. Hanifa Namusoke noted that a country that craves a healthy population, must start from the basics by ensuring that the children are exclusively breastfed.
“The first vaccine that is free for all at infancy is breast milk, in fact the first yellowish breast milk is that first vaccine for children and it should not be denied our children.
“It is pertinent to note that we cannot attain the 17 SDGs without paying adequate attention to breastfeeding.”
She lamented that breastfeeding in Nigeria is low at its present 29 percent rate, noting among others that breastfeeding contributes to poverty reduction as it also helps prevent malnutrition.
The Nutrition Manager stressed also that breastfeeding significantly improves the healthy development and survival of the infants.
Dr. Namusoke insisted that it is unacceptable that animals ensure that their babies are fed with their breast milk but humans who should know better are abdicating that responsibility by opting to feed their infants with milk gotten from animals.
According to her, “available statistics in Nigeria reveal that the average duration of exclusive breastfeeding is approximately three months and only three out of every 10 children under six months of age were exclusively breastfed which is 29 percent.
“This is an improvement from 17 percent in 2013 to 29 percent in 2018 (NDHS,2013; 2018), however, this still falls significantly below the target of 50 percent set by the World Health Assembly to be achieved in 2025 and the SDGs target for 2030.
“The percentage of children who were breastfed within one hour of birth which is 42 percent remains less than 50 percent. Breastfeeding rates in Nigeria reduces with age; 83 percent of the children are breastfed up to one year while 28 percent are breastfeeding till two years. Furthermore, the proportion of children who are not breastfeeding increases with age.”
She observed that attaining the health component of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, may not be feasible without giving adequate attention to exclusive breastfeeding.
Speaking on the objectives of the meeting, the Communication Officer, UNICEF, Enugu, Ijeoma Onuoha-Ogwe said among others that it was to engage and equip journalists from the Enugu Field Office with the knowledge of exclusive breastfeeding practices, policies and norms as well as to promote its practice among mothers.
And according to her, the expected outcome from the gathering among others was to ensure that Journalists were sensitized and armed with simple knowledge on the 2021 World Breastfeeding Week.
She said it was also intended to get the commitment of journalists on the need to promote the immeasurable benefits of mothers ensuring that their children are availed exclusive breastfeeding.
Earlier in his opening remark, the the Director General of Broadcasting Corporation of Abia state, BCA, Sir Anyaso Anyaso assured that his organization would always align itself to support exclusive breastfeeding in its programmes.
Represented by Mr. Nkpa Okezie, the Director General added “we will always appreciate partnering UNICEF in driving home the exclusive breastfeeding measures and campaign.”
Speaking, the Enugu State Commissioner for Gender Affairs, Mrs. Peace Nnaji who commended UNICEF for putting the dialogue together also lauded journalists for their enthusiasm to drive the message of exclusive breastfeeding down to the intended target.
Mrs. Nnaji appealed to fathers to allow the mothers breastfeed the children for the overall wellbeing of the children and the society.
She also cautioned mothers who in the bid to stay in shape by denying their children the benefits of breast milk to desist and change their attitudes because according to her, aside denying the children the immense health benefits of breast milk the bond between mothers and children established during breastfeeding would not be there.
The Commissioner noted that it was in a bid to promote breastfeeding among women of the state that the state government embarked on the provision of crèche in most public offices in the state where mothers take their babies in order to breastfeed them.
Also speaking, the Enugu State Head of Service, HoS, Ken Chukwuegbu represented by the Director of Finance and Accounts, Mrs. Oby Okafor noted that when children are adequately breastfed it adds lots of credibility to their growth.
He also called on the government to influence the private sector to encourage breastfeeding among mothers in that sector by emulating the decision of the Enugu state government to build crèche in public institutions.
He also announced that maternity leave in the state at the moment is four months but efforts are on to have it extended to six months.
According to the HoS “Enugu State has already set up a committee to promote nutrition and food for all including babies. And of course what babies get depends on what mothers put into the system,” she added.