Namibia Economist (Windhoek)

10 August 2012

Namibia: Six Months Maternity Leave for Mothers to Breastfeed - LAC

The Legal Assistance Centre has called on the government to review the law on maternity leave to consider the viability of six months maternity leave, or require employers to institute other measures to facilitate continued breastfeeding.

This call was in the wake of the 20th anniversary of World Breastfeeding Week, commemorated from 1 to 7 August under the theme "Understanding the past, planning for the future.

According to the LAC the World Health Organisation recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their children for six months. However breastfeeding in Namibia is low.

"The percentage of mothers who exclusively breastfeed their children for 0-2 months is 53.6%, dropping to 22.9% for children aged 2-3 months and further dropping to 5.7% for children aged 4-5 months," it said.

A fact sheet which was issued on Tuesday by the Ministry of Health and Social Services' Food and Nutrition Sub Division also in commemoration of the breastfeeding week, has stated that 10% of babies born in Namibia do not know the taste of milk as they survive on plain water during the first two months of their life. "10% of babies are fed plain water during the first two months of life. Only 33% of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, therefore placing infants at greater risk of diarrhoea. 23% of deaths among children zero to five years of age are the result of diarrhoea," it said.

Making a call for longer breastfeeding, the ministry's statement said "This requires that health workers have the knowledge to promote breastfeeding and the interpersonal communication skills to counsel women on how to breastfeed and how to support them with breastfeeding problems, that workplaces and other institutions are supportive of and encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding after returning to employment or educational studies. It also calls for the development and enforcement of national legislation on the International Code of Marketing of breast milk substitutes.

According to the LAC, a contributing factor is the lack of public awareness about the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding for six months. Another contributing factor is that maternity leave is only three months, with one month taken before the birth of the child.

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