UN calls for stronger workplace policies for nursing mothers

United Nations: The UN has called for better support systems and policies for working mothers to enable them breastfeed their babies as it marked the start of the annual World Breastfeeding Week.

The theme for this year’s observance from August 1 to 7 is ‘Women and work – Let’s make it work’.

“We know that breastfeeding helps children to survive and thrive – enabling infants to withstand infections, providing critical nutrients for the early development of their brains and bodies, and strengthening the bond between mothers and their babies. And the benefits of breastfeeding last a lifetime,” head of the UN Children’s Fund Anthony Lake and the World Health Organisation’s Director-General Margaret Chan said in a joint statement.

They said more must be done to overcome an obstacle that prevents potentially millions of women from breastfeeding – Workplace policies that do not support the right of working mothers to breastfeed their babies on the job, NDTV reported.

Of the approximately 830 million women workers in the world today, the majority do not benefit from workplace policies that support nursing mothers, and this figure does not include women working in informal, seasonal or part-time employment – often the poorest women in poorer countries – who may face even greater barriers to continued breastfeeding.

“This is not only a loss to working mothers and their babies. It is also a loss to employers,” they said.

Working mothers with adequate maternity benefits, including a breastfeeding-supportive workplace, report increased job satisfaction and greater loyalty to their employers.

Since breastfed children fall sick less often, their mothers are also less frequently absent from work.

The statement points out that a recent study found that infants who were breastfed for at least one year went on to stay in school longer, score higher on intelligence tests and earn more as adults than those who were breastfed for only a month.

However, despite this growing evidence, only 38 per cent of infants around the world today are breastfed exclusively for even the recommended first six months of life.

The World Health Assembly has set a global target of increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates for children less than six months of age to at least 50 per cent by 2025.

“To achieve this ambitious and very important goal, we need to tackle all the barriers to breastfeeding,” the two UN officials said.

“Governments should lead the charge by making breastfeeding a policy priority in national development plans, increasing resources for programming that supports breastfeeding, and working with communities and families to promote the full benefits of breastfeeding.”

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