Six Months’ Maternity Leave: Nigeria Can Do It – Gbenga Ajala


Breast milk is the natural first food for babies, it provides all the nutrients and energy that the infant needs for the first 6 months of life and it continues to provide up to 50% or more of a child's nutritional needs during the second half of the first year and up to 33% during the second year of life. Breast milk promotes sensory and cognitive development and protects the infant against infectious and chronic diseases.

Exclusive Breastfeeding reduces infant mortality caused by common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhea and helps for a speedy recovery from illness. Breastfeeding contributes to the health and well being of mothers, helps to space childbirth, and reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.  It is a secure and safe way of feeding.

The foundation for Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is to PROTECT, PROMOTE and SUPPORT BREAST FEEDING according to the global strategy for infant survival. The BFHI has been implemented in about 16,000 hospitals in 171 countries as it has contributed to improving the establishment of exclusive breastfeeding world-wide.

The latest systematic review of evidence of lowest feeding was published in 2009 and was tagged "optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding" by Kramer M.S and Kakuma. The result of two control trials and 18 other studies indicated that six months' exclusive breastfeeding has several advantages over 3-4 month's exclusive breastfeeding followed by mixed breastfeeding.

The Holy Books stress the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. Luke 11:27 says "blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breast at which you were nursed." Qur'an 31:14 says "His mother bore him by strain after strain. His sucking period last 2 years; be grateful to me (Allah) and your parents."

For breastfeeding rate to improve, there must be a significant amount of societal support in terms of longer paid leaves. Many women cannot afford not to earn an income and thus head back to the workplace soon after delivery. A greater proportion of women return to work within 4-8 weeks which likely contributes to their inability to practice exclusive breastfeeding.

The government of India has gazette a law on 6 months maternity leave which has been put to practice. Also in Bangladesh, 6 months' maternity leave is now observed by mothers since January 2011. Bangladesh received an award by the United Nation for her effort at reducing child mortality rate through the adoption of 6 months maternity leave/exclusive breastfeeding. Nigeria can afford six months' maternity leave. We can do it.

In Nigeria, it is unfortunate that many private employers do not even allow 12 weeks maternity leave, though all government offices now implement 16 weeks maternity leave. It is worthy to note that AFRIBABY has proposed a bill to the national assembly on six months maternity leave. In view of these, it is imperative that we all support AFRIBABY in order to achieve the 6 months paid maternity leave.

In addition, mothers' corners or daycare centers should be created in offices, shopping malls, banks, insurance companies and other public places to allow babies breastfeed properly even after the six months maternity leave. We need to help our babies grow up with the best nutrition at the beginning of life so that they can be the TALENTED GENERATIONS which will build our dear country NIGERIA in the future.

Symposium paper by  Mr. Olugbenga Ajala, Chairman, Forum of Federal Health Institution Nurses And  Midwives (FFHINAM) LUTH at the 3rd African International Babycare Exhibition, Lagos, April 4, 2012.


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