WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging Caribbean countries to implement laws to ensure that working women are given the time and support needed to breastfeed.
PAHO, in a message marking International Breastfeeding Week that ends on Wednesday next week, said this includes adequate paid maternity leave and sufficient breastfeeding breaks upon return to work.
International Breastfeeding Week is being observed under the theme “Protect breastfeeding in the workplace” and PAHO said this is intended “to raise awareness of the need to support parents and create an enabling environment where mothers can breastfeed optimally”.
PAHO said in order to ensure that working mothers are adequately protected, it is calling for regional countries to implement the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention No 183 and the Maternity Protection Recommendation, 2000 (R191), “and to enshrine this in national law.
“This states that women should be given at least 14 weeks paid maternity leave, and that governments should endeavour to extend this leave to at least 18 weeks. It also stipulates that working mothers should be provided with two 30-minute nursing breaks each day upon her return to work, as well as facilities for breastfeeding at or near the workplace.”
PAHO’s Director of Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, Dr Anselm Hennis, said “maternity is a particularly vulnerable time for working women and their families,” adding that it is also “vital that expectant and nursing mothers are protected by law, so that they have adequate time to give birth, recover and nurse their children”.
Hennis said paid maternity leave leads to increased duration of breastfeeding, and improved health and wellbeing for both mother and child.
PAHO said women who only receive short maternity leave – six weeks or less – are four times more likely to not establish breastfeeding or to stop breastfeeding early.
In the Americas, including the Caribbean, PAHO said just three countries provide women with paid maternity leave of 18 weeks or longer, and another eight countries provide women with at least 14 weeks.
When it comes to the recommendations regarding breastfeeding breaks, 18 countries in the region provide these breaks to mothers when they return to the workplace.
“Many countries in the Americas include provisions for maternity and breastfeeding for working mothers in their labour laws, but few of these provisions go far enough to ensure that women and children are properly supported,” said Dr Ruben Grajeda, PAHO’s Regional Advisor for Nutrition and Social Determinants of Health.
“This is a fundamental issue of equality, where women who are not protected are faced with a stark choice between economic stability and the health of their child,” he added.
PAHO also recommended a variety of other measures to protect, promote and support the right to breastfeeding.
These include the adoption and monitoring of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and the implementation of the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI).
In the Americas, PAHO said 54 per cent of children are breastfed within the first hour of life, and 38 percent are breastfed exclusively until six months of age, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).