World Breastfeeding Week: WHO, UNICEF campaign for paid maternity, paternity leave

THE United Nations health and children agencies (WHO and UNICEF) are both campaigning for the provision of family-friendly policies to enable breastfeeding that included the enacting of paid maternity and paternity leave.

The campaign was set up to commemorate the World Breastfeeding Week holding between August 1 and 7. The week is celebrated every year to encourage breastfeeding, thereby, improving the health of babies worldwide.

“WHO is working with UNICEF and partners to promote the importance of family-friendly policies to enable breastfeeding and help parents nurture and bond with their children in early life, when it matters most,” according to the WHO’s statement on Thursday.

It included that enacting paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks, and paid paternity leave would encourage shared responsibility from parents of caring for their children on an equal basis.

“Being a parent is the most important job in the world. Parents need time to give their child the best start in life. Breastfeeding is one of them!” WHO also tweeted.

Importance of paid leave. Infographics credit: WHO.

Upon return to work after the paid leave,  WHO said mothers also need access to a parent-friendly workplace to protect and support their ability to continue breastfeeding.

It asked for access to “breastfeeding breaks, a safe, private, and hygienic space for expressing and storing breastmilk and affordable childcare”.

Breastfeeding promotes better health for mothers and children alike. It decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

By increasing breastfeeding, WHO said more than 800, 000 lives could be saved every year, the majority being children under six months. It estimated that increased breastfeeding could avert 20, 000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer.

The global health agency recommended exclusive breastfeeding for babies within one hour after birth and six months old. Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.

    According to the Nigeria labour act, females employees are entitled to four months, 16 weeks, of paid maternity leave. But the law does not make provision for paternity leave.

    At the state level, Lagos State civil servants are entitled to ten-day paternity leave within the first two months of a child’s birth.

    The exclusive breastfeeding rates in Nigeria is low. UNICEF Nigeria said only 17 per cent of babies born, over the decade, were exclusively breastfed.  “Just 18 per cent of children aged 6-23 months are fed the minimum acceptable diet in Nigeria,” it noted.

    The result of the low-feeding is not far-fetched as the country has the highest number of stunted growth in Africa.

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