The governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, recently approved six months maternity leave for nursing mothers in the state public service. The new policy took effect from February 1, 2020. Prior to this approval, nursing mothers in the state were given three months maternity leave. The approval, according to Ekiti State Government, was in line with the administration’s determination to key into global best practices that would improve the quality of lives of its citizens.
It is also expected that the policy will improve maternal health and encourage mothers to observe the six months exclusive breastfeeding campaign of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The six months exclusive breastfeeding would reduce to the barest minimum infant and maternal mortality rate and facilitate work-life balance for female workers in the state.
We commend Ekiti State governor for this bold initiative, which is gender inclusive and urge other state governors that have not done so to emulate the worthy example of Fayemi. We also urge private sector employers to emulate this good example from Ekiti State. Lagos, Enugu and Kaduna states had earlier approved six months maternity leave in the country. In 2014, the then governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, approved six months maternity leave for nursing mothers and 10 days paternity leave for fathers.
Enugu State followed suit when in 2015, the state government introduced six months maternity leave for female civil servants and three weeks paternity leave for male civil servants whose wives gave birth to babies. Kaduna State under Governor Nasir El-Rufai has granted six months maternity leave to nursing mothers in the state. Generally, maternity leave in Nigeria is three months but in 2018, it was increased to four months. It was the current Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who announced the extension during the plenary session at the 107th International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
Therefore, we urge the Federal Government to extend maternity leave for nursing mothers in its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to six months as mooted by Ngige during the ministerial briefing and inauguration of the 2018 World Breastfeeding Week. This is perhaps the best way the government can assure Nigerians and our global partners that it is highly interested in exclusive breastfeeding campaign.
Exclusive breastfeeding has been scientifically proved to enhance maternal and child health globally. Former Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, had remarked that breastfeeding remained the surest way to have a healthy baby. It has also been established that the child and nursing mother gain a lot from six months exclusive breastfeeding. One of the gains of exclusive breastfeeding is that it provides the ideal nutrition for infants. Breast milk has a good mix of vitamins, protein and fat and every nutrient a baby needs to grow. It is equally provided in a form that is more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help the baby fight off viruses and bacteria. For the nursing mothers, exclusive breastfeeding enables them lose pregnancy weight faster.
It lowers their risk to breast and ovarian cancer, as well as osteoporosis. Medical experts opine that initiating breastfeeding within the first hours of life reduces the rate of neonatal mortality by up to 22 per cent. Apart from enabling mothers to recover from the exertions of childbirth, the bond between mother and child has unquantifiable and long-lasting effect on the development of the child.
To ensure the success of exclusive breastfeeding, it is commendable that some operators in the private sector have in addition to granting women three months maternity leave allowed them to perform half the normal hours of work for three months. It is good that some others have provided crèche facilities in their work places to enable nursing mothers so observe exclusive breastfeeding. These approaches are laudable as long the aim of exclusive breastfeeding is achieved.
While it has been estimated that approximately seven million children are born in Nigeria every year, it is sad that only 25 per cent are exclusively breastfed between the ages of zero and six months. There is urgent need to change this ugly narrative. We call on the Federal and State governments to make the observance of this policy a national priority. They should enact laws for its effective implementation across the country.