According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report only 23 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed in the first six months, and Minister within the Ministry of Public Health Karen Cummings has stated that one of the key reasons for this prevalence is because the majority of mothers are working.
Women should breastfeed their babies for six months said the World Health Organization since it reduces the risk of babies becoming infected, creates bonding between mother and child, and prevents ovarian cancer.
The UNICEF report: “The State of the World’s Children 2016: A fair chance for every child” said early initiation of breastfeeding is 49 per cent in Guyana, which indicates that less than half of the women giving birth breastfed their newborns during their most crucial months.
Public Health Minister Dr George Norton had expressed that if the sector requires mothers to breastfeed fully for six months then there should discussions about mothers being granted six months leave since most mothers are part of the labour force. He acknowledged that this might burden employers but in the long run it will be worth it.
Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence last Wednesday stated that the ministry is in support of a social policy for six months maternity leave to be granted to mothers, and so it has been placed on the 2017 ministry’s agenda.
Lawrence indicated that in the ministry’s 2017 programme they will push to ensure that wherever there are ministries and government agencies there should be a place for mothers to go and breastfeed their babies.
She stated that they plan on starting with the Ministry of Social Protection as soon as their new building is completed. She stated that there is need for day-care services and breastfeeding rooms to be incorporated into the working force so as to accommodate mothers and assist them in early childhood development.
However, this new policy might not sit well with the private sector because according to some critics “time is money” and no employer would want to have a staff out for six months.
In 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) had called for more employers to support breastfeeding mothers in the Caribbean and Americas. The organisation stated that the employers were more than likely to reap benefits for their businesses and their countries’ economies.
It stressed the need to support women in balancing work and family, and especially to breastfeed their babies, according to public health recommendations, which are based on research that establishes health benefits from breastfeeding that range from reduced infections and improved IQ in babies to lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers.