As the globe observes World Breastfeeding Week, the Women Empowerment and Media Advocacy Initiative (WEMAI) has called upon both federal and state governments, along with employers, to implement strategies that ensure optimal nourishment for nursing mothers, promoting the production of healthy breast milk.
In a press release by its Program Manager, Bukola Afeni, to commemorate Breastfeeding Week in Abuja, WEMAI emphasized the significance of a nutritious diet for women in fostering the growth of every child.
Afeni voiced support for UNICEF’s advocacy for breastfeeding, underscoring its mutual advantages for both mothers and infants.
She urged governments at all tiers to initiate programs that provide comprehensive assistance to lactating mothers, thereby enhancing the practice of healthy breastfeeding. Afeni stated, “Expectant and nursing mothers must fortify their nutritional intake to facilitate the smooth flow of nourishing breast milk. Achieving this goal necessitates government intervention to enhance living conditions for lactating mothers.”
Meanwhile, UNICEF’s Nigeria Country Representative, Cristian Munduate, urged federal and state governments, as well as employers, to take concrete steps in creating an encouraging breastfeeding environment for all working mothers, encompassing both formal and informal sectors. Munduate highlighted the potential of enhanced breastfeeding practices to annually save the lives of over 100,000 Nigerian children. Furthermore, it could reduce healthcare expenses associated with insufficient breastfeeding by $22 million and contribute an additional $21 billion to the economy during children’s productive years by bolstering cognitive development and averting early mortality.
In a message to mark the 2023 World Breastfeeding Week, Munduate disclosed that a global analysis reveals that elevating rates of exclusive breastfeeding could potentially rescue the lives of a staggering 820,000 children under the age of five each year, generating an extra income of $302 billion.
She noted that there is compelling evidence today indicating that every 1000 Naira invested in supporting breastfeeding can potentially generate an estimated return of 35,000 Naira in economic benefits for Nigeria.
Munduate emphasized that merely seven out of the 36 states currently offer a fully paid six-month maternity leave, and just 34 percent of infants aged 0 to 6 months adhere to the UNICEF-recommended practice of exclusive breastfeeding. She pointed out that Nigeria remains quite distant from the World Health Assembly’s targeted 70 percent rate by 2030.
She remarked, “It is crucial to underscore the profound importance of breastfeeding for the well-being of children, mothers, and society as a whole. Breast milk serves as the initial vaccine and primary nourishment every child receives at birth. Breastfeeding stands as a vital foundation, protecting infants from life-threatening infections, fostering optimal cognitive development in children, and diminishing the occurrence of chronic childhood and maternal ailments. This, in turn, reduces healthcare expenses. Beyond being a superfood and immunization, breast milk is also a astute investment.”
While acknowledging notable progress made in enhancing exclusive breastfeeding rates in Nigeria over the past two decades, it remains evident that further action is imperative.
She stated, “At present, women constitute 20 million of the 46 million-strong Nigerian workforce, with 95 percent operating in the informal sector. The formal sector employs only 5 percent. Alarmingly, a mere 9 percent of organizations have established workplace breastfeeding policies, and this number drops to a mere 1.5 percent in the public sector.”