By Asma’u Ahmad
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the Federal Government’s recent commitment to increase maternity leave for nursing mothers from 12 to 16 weeks is a welcome development.
The UNICEF Chief of Nutrition, Simeon Nanama, gave the commendation in an interview with Newsmen on Friday in Lagos.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, had on June 5 at the International Labour Congress (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland, announced that the Federal Government had increased maternity leave to 16 weeks.
Ngige said that employers of labour, both private and public sectors, have been barred from sacking women from work, either due to their marital or maternity status.
He said: “Employers of labour in Nigeria are, by regulation, requested to provide workplace creches for nursing mothers for ease at workplace.
“In the public service, government recently increased the period for maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks ito allow enough recuperation for both baby and mother, especially in the area of breastfeeding.”
According to Nanama, a national survey conducted in 2016 indicated that 31 per cent of Nigerian children under the age of five are moderately or severely underweight.
“Stunting, which results from malnutrition, can irreversibly hinder children’s physical and mental development. Providing mothers an opportunity to take longer paid maternity leave is likely to increase exclusive breastfeeding.
“Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life has shown to improve physical and mental development.”
Also, a UK based General Practitioner and an expert in Emergency Medicine, Dr Femi Ogunremi, told Newsmen that the development was both mentally and physically beneficial to the health of mothers.
“Maternity leave period encourages exclusive breastfeeding, which is very beneficial for both the mother and baby. Breastfeeding also encourages bonding, which makes a mother fulfilled and such fulfillment impacts positively on her mental health.
“When we talk about the physical health, women who breastfeed have a lesser chance of developing breast cancer compared to those who do not breastfeed. This has to be said in perspective, because it will be an opportunity to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies; in that way, it encourages better maternal health,” Ogunremi said.