As the world observes World Breastfeeding Week, Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, has called upon the Nigerian Federal and State governments, as well as employers, to take immediate action in creating a supportive breastfeeding environment for working mothers across all sectors.

Highlighting the vital significance of breastfeeding for the health and well-being of children, mothers, and society as a whole, Munduate emphasizes that breastmilk acts as the first vaccine and primary nourishment every child receives at birth. 

“Breastfeeding plays a critical role in protecting infants from life-threatening infections, fostering optimal brain development, and reducing the occurrence of chronic illnesses, ultimately lowering healthcare 

Global analysis reveals that increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save an astonishing 820,000 children under five annually and generate an additional income of US $302 billion. 

In Nigeria, improved breastfeeding practices could save over 100,000 children’s lives each year, save US$22 million in healthcare treatment costs related to inadequate breastfeeding, and add US$21 billion to the economy over children’s productive years, leading to increased cognitive capacity and preventing premature mortality.

Despite significant progress made in Nigeria over the past two decades to raise exclusive breastfeeding rates, much work remains to be done. Presently, only 7 out of 36 states provide fully paid maternity leave for six months, and only 34 percent of children aged 0 to 6 months are exclusively breastfed as recommended by UNICEF. Nigeria still lags behind the World Health Assembly’s target of 70 percent by 2030.

With women constituting 20 million of the 46 million workforce in Nigeria, 95 percent are in the informal sector, while the formal sector employs only 5 percent. Surprisingly, only 9 percent of organizations have workplace breastfeeding policies, with a mere 1.5 percent in the public sector. Women in the informal sector receive minimal support for breastfeeding.

To drive progress, governments and businesses must play their part by providing essential support to mothers and caregivers. Policies supporting breastfeeding, such as paid six-month maternity leave, paid paternity leave, flexible return-to-work options, lactation breaks during working hours, and adequate facilities for breastfeeding, are crucial to ensuring exclusive breastfeeding for six months, followed by appropriate complementary feeding while breastfeeding continues up to two years and beyond.

In conclusion, investing in breastfeeding support policies and programs across all settings, particularly during crises and in food-insecure regions, is essential for the well-being of children and societal advancement. UNICEF Nigeria urges collective efforts towards a future where breastfeeding is fully supported and embraced by all, leading to healthier generations and a thriving Nigerian workforce. Together, let’s make breastfeeding at work, work!

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