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Experts advocates for maternity leave, conducive workplace

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Experts have called on the Federal Government and other employers of labour to implement six months maternity leave and make the workplace conducive to enable mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding for their babies.

The experts, who made made the call in separate interviews with Newsmen  in Ibadan on Sunday, decried the low exclusive breastfeeding rate put at 29 per cent in Nigeria.

The President, Nigerian Society of Neonatal Medicine, Dr Olukemi Tongo, said the theme for 2022 Breastfeeding Week: ‘Step Up For Breastfeeding, Educate and Support’ was apt.

Tongo said the low exclusive rate put at 29 per cent in Nigeria was not acceptable, hence the need to increase support for mothers.

“And, we need mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life for all the benefits accrued from breastfeeding; the babies growth, good development, emotional development, immunity to fight infections.

“Such that in the future they will have lower disease chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, allergies and all that. Aside that the cognitive development of baby is superb with breast milk.

“Even when they start complementary food after six months, they should continue with breastfeeding for up to two years,” she said.

Tongo, who is also a Consultant Paediatrician Neonatologist University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said whereas the cost of exclusive breastfeeding is low compared to formula food.

“If there is a creche in the place of work or attached to the place of work or a breastfeeding place at a place of work, mothers can keep their child there; the mother will be at rest and can be more productive.

“But when the child is so far away, you don’t know what is happening, the mother’s heart would not be at rest, she would be tense.

“Even the mother’s breast will be full and engrossed and painful, she might not be able to concentrate at work though she is physically present,” she said.

The neonatologist said employers needed to know that they too would benefit from making the environment conducive for their workers to breastfeed.

She said there should be no discrimination against nursing mothers such as denying them employment or making life difficult for them at work.

Also, Mrs Motunrayo Oduneye, Chief Dietitian at Dietetics Department UCH, said including water as part of babies’ food for the first six months of life used to be a major contending factor with this art of breastfeeding, that is giving water alongside breast milk.

“The composition of water in breast milk is about 75 per cent. So, there is no need for water alongside breast milk for the first six months of a baby’s life.

“Other challenges in the art of breastfeeding include mothers being working class either with state or Federal Government or being entrepreneurs or self employed, this could hinder exclusive breastfeeding for their babies.

“Because they want to support the home they look forward to resuming back to work as soon as possible.

“But getting back to work has been a limiting factor to practicing exclusive breastfeeding, for example, by three and a half months mothers working with the Federal Government have to resume back to work because it is yet to declare the six months maternity leave.“Oyo State is one of the five or six states that has confirmed six months maternity leave.

“This is one of the things that we rely on that can help to improve the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Nigeria,” Oduneye said.

According to her, in Oyo State, the breastfeeding rate is not bad, however, we are still battling with improving the data of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

Oduneye said psychosocial perception of breastfeeding has been a limiting factor because some mothers still believe that only breast milk will not be enough for a child.

“But breast milk in the first six months of life contains all the necessary nutrients in quantity and quality that a child requires at this stage of life.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given sufficient information on the importance of breastfeeding, adding that after giving the breast milk exclusively for the first six months, it should continue with other food added for two years,” she said

The 2022 Breastfeeding Week is commemorated from 1st to 7th August.(NAN)

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