By Asmau Ahmad
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said improved breastfeeding practices can save more than 100,000 children annually in Nigeria and $22 million in health care treatment costs related to inadequate breastfeeding.
Ms Cristian Munduate, the UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, said this in a statement on the occasion of the World Breastfeeding Week, on Tuesday in Abuja.
The theme for WBW 2023, “Enable Breastfeeding, making a Difference for Working Parents”, focuses on creating more awareness on breastfeeding support in workspaces.
Munduate said that it could also generate an additional 21 billion dollars 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 N1,000 invested in supporting breastfeeding can yield an estimated N35,000 in economic returns for Nigeria.
“While I acknowledge significant strides made in the past two decades in Nigeria to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates, it remains evident that more needs to be done.
“Presently, only seven out of 36 states provide six months fully paid maternity leave and only 34 per cent of children aged zero to six months are exclusively breastfed as recommended by UNICEF.
“Nigeria is still far from reaching the World Health Assembly 70 per cent target by 2030,” she added.
She added that global analysis reveals that elevating rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children under the age of five annually, generating an additional income of 302 billion dollars.
According to her, breastmilk holds significant importance for the health and well-being of children, mothers, and society at large.
“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.”
Munduate said that breastmilk was not just a super-food and vaccine, but also a smart investment.
She, therefore, called on the government at all levels and employers to take decisive actions to ensure a supportive breastfeeding environment for all working mothers, including those in the formal and informal sector.
The UN scribe said that presently, women make up 20 million out of the 46 million workforces in Nigeria, with 95 per cent within the informal sector, while the formal sector only employs five per cent.
“Shockingly, only nine per cent of organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, with only 1.5 per cent in the public sector. Women in the informal sector have nearly no support for breastfeeding.”
To facilitate progress, she said it was essential for governments and businesses to play their part by providing the necessary support to mothers and caregivers.
She added that it was important to have policies that support breastfeeding, such as paid maternity leave for six months, as well as paid paternity leave, flexible return-to-work options and regular lactation breaks during working hours.
Munduate also advocated for adequate facilities that enable mothers to continue exclusively breastfeeding for six months, followed by age-appropriate complementary feeding while breastfeeding continued to two years and beyond.
“In conclusion, investing in breastfeeding support policies and programs in all settings, especially during crises and in food-insecure regions, is crucial to ensure the well-being of our children and the progress of our society.
“Let us collectively work towards a future where breastfeeding is supported and embraced by all, resulting in healthier generations and a thriving Nigerian workforce.”