Kingston, Jamaica, November 20 (PAHO/WHO) - November 20 is observed globally as World Children’s Day. This year, it will be celebrated under the theme, ‘A Better Future for Every Child’, creating the opportunity for a discussion on the importance of protecting current and expectant mothers along with the children who will chart Jamaica’s future beyond the COVID-19 health emergency.
Breastfeeding has long been established as the best option for mother and child. The guidelines are clear – young children should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life with the introduction of nutritionally adequate foods thereafter, with breastfeeding continuing for the first two years or beyond. However, only 38% of children in the Caribbean and Latin America are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life.
Scaling up of breastfeeding, in accordance with best practices, could prevent 823,000 deaths of children under 5 years globally and 20,000 deaths in women with breast cancer each year.
Maternity protection in the workplace is critical to safeguarding the health of the mother and the development of young children.
Governments are encouraged to implement measures in keeping with the International Labour Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention No. 183 of 2000 and Maternity Protection Recommendation No 191 of 2000. This Recommendation calls for at least 18 weeks of paid maternity leave for new mothers, paid breastfeeding breaks and hygienic facilities in the workplace.
The Pan American Health Organization also recommends that employers implement supportive policies including paid maternity leave, flexible or reduced working hours for breastfeeding mothers, paid breaks for breastfeeding and a dedicated room for breastfeeding in the workplace that is private and hygienic.
Statistical models show that paid break guarantees for at least six months were associated with an 8.9% increase in exclusive breastfeeding. These models are complemented by findings from a study in the USA, which showed that lactation rooms and breaks to express breastmilk increased breastfeeding for the first six months by 25%. These benefits impact the cost of delivering care and support the improved health of young children.
Creating an enabling environment for mothers to breastfeed is also good for business. Women who breastfeed raise healthier children, making their transition back to productive work a more seamless one. They have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, improved birth spacing, and may also have a lower risk of diabetes and becoming overweight or obese. This reality contributes to a healthier, more connected workforce characterized by lower levels of absenteeism, lower staff turnover and increased loyalty.
Jamaica has made progress in the implementation of extended maternity leave for mothers and paternity leave for fathers. Provisions to allow domestic workers who contribute to the National Insurance Scheme to claim a maximum of eight-week allowance is also a positive development. However, opportunities still exist for more Jamaican companies to provide facilities and breaks for women to breastfeed or express their milk.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to do things differently. The time is now to embrace bold measures that will equip children, families, the workforce and the country to thrive in the new normal.