By Vincess Okushi

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called on governments and business owners to take part in policies that support breastfeeding practices by providing six months of paid maternity and paternity leave to encourage exclusive breastfeeding among women.

UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative Cristian Munduate made the call in a Statement to mark World Breastfeeding Week today, 1st August 2023 in Abuja.

She said its essential for the Nigerian Federal and State governments and employers to take decisive actions by investing in breastfeeding policies and programs especially during crises and in food-insecure environments to ensure the well-being of children for social progress.

Cristian noted that “Collectively the work towards a future where breastfeeding is supported” could be achieved with “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.”

Admonishing the importance of breastfeeding, the Country Representative also said that it is for the health and well-being of children, and mothers, hence calling for its support across the formal and informal sectors.

“Breastmilk is the first vaccine and the first food that every child receives at birth. Breastfeeding 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.

“Breastmilk is not just a super-food and vaccine, it is also a smart investment. Global analysis reveals that elevating rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of an astounding 820,000 children under the age of five annually, generating an additional income of US $302 billion. 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, and 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.”

Applauding the giant strides made in the past two decades in Nigeria to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates, Munduate acknowledged that more is needed as “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’s 70 percent target by 2030.

“Presently, women make up 20 million out of the 46 million workforce in Nigeria; 95 percent are within the informal sector, while the formal sector only employs 5 percent. “Shockingly, only 9 percent of organizations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, with only 1.5 percent in the public sector.” She lamented the lack of support Women in the informal sector faced while embarking on breastfeeding practice and called for urgent intervention for a healthier society.

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