Stakeholders seek friendlier corporate workplace breastfeeding policies

As part of activities to celebrate the 2023 World Breastfeeding Week, a non-profit human development organisation, FHI 360/Alive & Thrive, in collaboration with key stakeholders in Lagos State have called for family-friendly corporate workplace breastfeeding policies.

This, they said, was crucial to ensure a supportive environment that enables and promotes six months of exclusive breastfeeding for working mothers, and cited the importance of exclusive breastfeeding to child survival.

Alive & Thrive is a social and behaviour change communication initiative that is focused on improving maternal, infant and young child feeding practices.  The initiative is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by FHI 360.

Speaking at an event organised by the NGO to commemorate the week in Lagos, Alive & Thrive, alongside leaders from organisations in Nigeria Employers Consultative Association,  and human resources managers of large organisations in the private sector, said the importance of exclusive breastfeeding cannot be overemphasized.

They lamented that only 9 per cent of organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, with only 1.5 per cent in the public sector.

The stakeholders urged organisations to promote family-friendly workplaces and utilize the workplace lactation Toolkit developed by Alive & Thrive and the NECA Network of Entrepreneurial Women, adding that the kit seeks to help key players in the corporate world understand the need for providing workplace support for breastfeeding to enable mothers to take good care of their babies.

They noted that the event is in line with this year’s theme ‘Enable Breastfeeding, Making a Difference for Working Parents’.

According to them, the toolkit includes the provision of on-site crèches for their babies and six months of paid maternity leave for working mothers.

“Breastfeeding plays a vital role in the health and development of infants, providing essential nutrients and antibodies that foster their growth and protection against illnesses.

” However, for many working mothers, balancing the demands of work with breastfeeding can be a daunting challenge in part because of unsupportive breastfeeding policies and many mothers are not able to exclusively breastfeed their babies because they have to return to work soon after having their babies”, the stakeholders unanimously said.

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in over 120 countries by the World Health Organisation and its partners and is held every year from August 1 – 7.

The aim, according to WHO, is to encourage breastfeeding and consequently improve the health of babies around the world.

Wife of the Lagos State Governor, Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, in her address, said when a child is exclusively breastfed for the first six months after birth, it helps in no small measure to reduce morbidity, strengthen the immune system and protect the baby against serious diseases such as respiratory infections, low growth, diarrhoea, and pneumonia.

The Lagos State first lady who was represented by Mrs. Ogunnubi Patience Olamide, said it was regrettable that despite the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, many working mothers do not enjoy six months maternity leave, stating that even for mothers, observing exclusive breastfeeding is highly beneficial.

“Breastfed babies are healthier, and have lower disease and death rates, therefore, as stakeholders, we must collectively work towards strengthening the capacity of breastfeeding mothers, providing and sustaining breastfeeding-friendly environments for families across the state and beyond.

“ Statistics by the World Health Organisation revealed that more than half a billion working women are not given essential maternity protections in national laws and just 20 per cent of countries require employers to provide employees with paid breaks and facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk.

“This is indeed worrisome and as stakeholders, it calls for our urgent intervention towards implementing policies and finding solutions that provide opportunities for nursing mothers to have access to a minimum of 18 weeks maternity leave or preferably extending beyond six months for both private and public institutions.

“This right should also enable workplace accommodations to support breastfeeding after this period, ensuring women have the freedom to breastfeed for as long as they desire”, she said

The Alive & Thrive Project Director, Dr. Victor Ogbodo, in his remarks, said for societies and economies to thrive, countries and businesses need to support workers and their families, through family-friendly policies, as they carry and raise children from pregnancy to school age.

He said, “By empowering key corporate leaders across society, we can foster positive changes that support the well-being of working parents and promote the health as well as the development of their children.

“Also, friendlier corporate workplace breastfeeding policies not only benefit the well-being of employees but also contribute to enhanced employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

“Unfortunately, only 9 per cent of organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, with only 1.5 per cent in the public sector. That is why this meeting is very crucial.

“According to a 2020 report by Pricewaterhouse Cooper on the impact of women on Nigeria’s economy, there are over 25 million women working in Nigeria’s private sector, It is important to provide these women and their families either in the formal or informal private sector, an enabling environment to win in their careers without sacrificing optimal exclusive breastfeeding for their children.

“During World Breastfeeding Week last year, we launched the Workplace Lactation Toolkit and The Workplace Component of the National Revised Baby Friendly Guidelines, we have continued to partner with NNEW to promote the adoption of these important instruments in the private sector”, he said.

Also speaking, the Director-General of NECA, Mr. Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, challenged more organisations to join the movement towards a more inclusive and nurturing work environment.

“Creating a nurturing work environment for nursing mothers and their families is not only a social responsibility but also a key driver of employee well-being and productivity’ he added.

According to the National Demographic and Health Survey 2018, Nigeria’s exclusive breastfeeding rate still stands at 29 per cent compared to other West African countries that are above 50 per cent.


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