In recent times, public awareness and support for breastfeeding has been on the high with a whole week devoted to this. In this piece, ENE OSHABA examines the just concluded World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) and the advocacy for crèche in work places.
Last week, Nigeria joined in commemorating the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW); an annual week-long celebration between, August 1-7, to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding, and to help institutionalise breastfeeding within health care systems.
It has been observed that exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years, provides an infant the best start possible to life.
Breast-milk has been proven to be safe and clean, and provides the energy and nutrients an infant needs for the first few months of life. It continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year.
Health experts around the world have advocated the early initiation of breastfeeding, within one hour of birth, saying this protects the newborn from infectious and chronic diseases, and reduces newborn mortality. It facilitates emotional bonding of mother and baby and has a positive impact on the duration of exclusive breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recommended breastfeeding exclusively for six months then, breastfeeding in addition to the start of solid foods for at least a year, after that breastfeeding can continue for as long as the mother and child wish.
Similarly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advocated full or exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months then the continuation of breastfeeding along with contemporary foods for two years or longer.
Unfortunately in Nigeria, children of career mothers don’t get adequately breastfed and the reasons are not far-fetched.
Distance has remained a major barrier to the exclusive breastfeeding of babies and this has been blamed on the lack of crèche at the workplace.
Crèche in workplace
For legal practitioner and mother of three, Mrs. Kate Ochada, who works in Lagos state where she resides with her family, getting a conducive care centre for her baby was one experience she wished never occurred in her journey of motherhood.
Sharing her experience with Blueprint weekend she said apart from her children not enjoying adequate time with her, especially during workdays, she also couldn’t breastfeed them as she may have desired due to the distance of her workplace from her baby’s crèche and considering the traffic issues in Lagos there was no other alternative than expressing breast milk as much as she could which cannot be compared to the baby sucking from her directly.
She said, “I started my journey with crèche in 2015 when I had to resume work after maternity leave. My son was just two months and three weeks old, so I dropped him off at a crèche that was far away from my workplace. Every day, I get to the crèche at 9pm or sometimes even 10pm.
Tired of how frustrating this was for her and how much her child had suffered, she decided to move him to a crèche closer to her workplace, this was also not very comfortable as she had to pay more for this service. However, did her situation get any better even after much spending?
“Yes, my son was in a crèche in Ikoyi close to my office which was on Awolowo Road Ikoyi. Most times I get inundated with work and never get to visit the crèche throughout the day. My son began to visit the hospitals frequently to treat infection, diarrhoea among others. It was obvious that his caregivers were not getting something right.
“My daughter arrived in 2018 and joined my son in the same crèche. Again, all the children in the baby room suffered acute diarrhoea that almost cost their lives, we found out that the caregivers didn’t wash their hands and the toilet areas were too close to the feeding area as the nannies were too lazy to dispose of waste properly,” she narrated.
Speaking further she said, “We also had the issues of inappropriate timing for feeding, long usage of diapers leading to serious nappy rash. I decided I was done with crèche. I got a sit home nanny bugged my home with cameras and that was the end of my regular visits to the hospital and incessant frustration.
“Perhaps, if my office had a crèche in its facility, I would have monitored my kids more closely and maintained an undivided attention for my job,” she maintained.
Similarly, another career mum working with a private media organisation in Abuja, Mrs. Maureen Okpe, narrated her experience while she was in Nasarawa state, stating that patronising a crèche for her one year old daughter then was a terrible experience she wished she never embarked on.
“My first child, Ochanya, started crèche after one year, then in Shabu, Lafia Local government in Nasarawa state and it was terrible. Those care givers were a bunch of lazy people.
“When you come to drop your child they are all smiles with praises on how she did this and that, how she enjoyed watching cartoons and what not, but when you leave a total different drama is happening behind you.
“While chatting with my colleague at work one day she revealed to me things that her child went through when in crèche and advised me to show up at an unusual time, that I will be surprised and yes, surprise was an understatement,” she said.
Continuing she said, “I decided to go pick my child early this particular day as I was feeling down at work. When I got there my child was crying, one look at her you know this child have been crying for a long time with catarrh running into her mouth.
“She defecated and from the look she was hungry crying for a change and food, but these caregivers were sleeping, sleeping so much so that I came, opened the door took my child home and they didn’t wake up.
“These supposed caregivers never bothered to check to call, until my husband came to pick her, hours later and that was when they realised by baby wasn’t there any longer and they began to call me four hours later.
“Not to mention the dirty scattered plates and children cups everywhere, those used by other kids including feeding bowls were littering outside with flies perching on them; a very disgusting sight to behold. That was the end of crèche for my daughter,” she said.
Contrarily, another working mum and a senior Agricultural Officer with the Ministry of Agriculture residing in Abuja, Jummai Mato, said she was quite satisfied with the crèche she registered her baby after her maternity leave.
Though she wished her office had a crèche to make breastfeeding of her baby during working hours easier and more exclusive, she could find time to visit the crèche to check on her baby and also breastfeed him because the distance was closer and there were no challenges with traffic.
“My office doesn’t have crèche but the challenge is that most of the mothers in my office stay outside of the town they work and so they don’t go to work every day, except those in the head offices. This gives most of us time to nurse our babies and breastfeed them adequately.
“My crèche experience is still wonderful because where I registered my kids is good without any stress. The environment is secure, neat, they take their work very seriously, they make the kids to be their friends and I had no issues whatsoever while using that crèche,” she said.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Serguis Ogun (PDP Edo state), had proposed a billed titled: “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Labour Act, 1971, Cap. L1, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and for Related Matters (HB.1438).”
The bill sought to amend the principal act so as to make provision for the establishment of crèches in public and private workplaces for employers who are breastfeeding/nursing mothers, and for other related matters.
According to Ogun, the availability of crèches in workplaces would allow nursing mothers to resume work and still be able to breastfeed their babies as recommended by the WHO and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) the question is how far ND how well has this bill gone in enabling exclusive breastfeeding thereby curbing child mortality.
Stakeholders push for compliance
To mark the 2022 WBF Day, the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), FCT Chapter, called for organisational support for breast feeding mothers at work places to enhance effective service delivery.
Chairperson, NAWOJ FCT, Comrade Annah Daniel, made the call when she led a delegation on a courtesy visit to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ms Daju Kachallom, in Abuja.
Comrade Daniel stressed the need for Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) as well as private organisations to provide crèche/day care centres within their premises to help nursing mothers breastfeed optimally.
“Very good that all organisations should have to establish a place where nursing mothers will go and breastfeed their babies while at work for effective service delivery because if their children should have problem, they too will have and that will affect the output at the work place,” she stated.
Also to commemorate the WBW, Chief Executive Officer, (CEO), of March Health Care Initiative, (MCI), comrade Olubunmi Lawal-Aiyedun, said breastfeeding remains one of life’s best vaccine for babies especially at the early stages of life, stating that it was important for every mother and intending mother to know its benefits and how to properly breast feed their babies.
For Nigeria to attain its 50 per cent target for breastfeeding in line with the Social Development Goals, (SDGs), it has to target the grassroots community because that is where majority of the mothers need enlightenment.
Lawal-Aiyedun explained that women were the key players and drivers of realising the breastfeeding goals set by the government and this also means that there must be inclusivity of people with disability.
According to her, “We cannot afford to leave anyone behind if Nigeria is to attain 50 per cent breastfeeding target and meet the SDGs goals by 2030. This means that people with disability must be carried along also.
“Breastfeeding cannot increase if we are not targeting the grassroots and the people with disability. We must work on attitudinal change; we must respect our pregnant and breastfeeding women as well. If we can do this, then come 2030, SDGs can be achieved in this regard.”
She said all hands must be on deck to do this, adding: “We are calling on all stakeholders to support us in this regard because as an NGO, we can do all we can to rally our women and their husbands at the community level but we have a limit to what we can achieve if we are not being supported.”
Speaking on the importance of encouraging grassroots women to exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months from birth, one of the programme facilitators, Morayo Eboh, said: “Women at the grassroots need support of the government and not for profit organisations like the March Care Initiative. If all of us put our hands together to help the women at the grassroots, we can reduce the rate at which maternal mortality is rising.
On her part, wife of the pastor of the Rhema Chapel, Abuja, pointed that “children need milk to grow properly so the women that are breastfeeding these children need all the support that they can get.”
It is said that breastfeeding is not only a natural act, but also a learned behaviour; therefore all mothers must be supported to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth.
Breast feeding within the first hour after delivery is encouraged, just as the breast feeding mother should be given practical support to enable them to establish breastfeeding and manage common breastfeeding difficulties.
At the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week, the WHO reiterates its commitment to support all countries of the Region to protect, promote and support breastfeeding for children to thrive.
More stakeholders, including Save Children International (SCI), have strongly advocated for workplace crèche to enable mother be closer to their babies and breastfeed them enough.
SCI and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) had called on the government at all levels, public health experts, CEOs, managers, captains of industries, workplaces and community gatekeepers to promote, protect, support and sustain breastfeeding-friendly environments for lactating mothers and their babies in the post pandemic era.