Only 23% of babies exclusively breastfed in Guyana – report

According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report only 23 per cent of babies are exclusively Breastfeedingbreastfed 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 baby 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.
The health organisation stated that promoting breastfeeding in the workplace increases benefits for employers, including employee loyalty to companies as a result of gratitude and satisfaction, and reduced absenteeism because breastfeeding employees’ babies get sick less often and less severely.
So far, Giftland Mall is the only public place that has a designated room for breastfeeding mothers. Speaking to this newspaper on Sunday, Roy Beepat stated that the creation of a space for mothers to breastfeed is becoming a “standard practice” around the world and so he decided to set the pace for Guyana.
The Linden Regional Hospital as well has a room for staff to breastfeed their babies.
The Guyana Publication Inc has also set the pace for the private sector by offering free day service for its entire staff.
Minister Cummings stated that the ministry is working assiduously to ensure that mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months and of the instigation of six months maternity leave. She stated that the two other major reasons why women do not breastfeed are: because they choose not to; and they are HIV infected.
In Guyana, only six out of 12 hospitals have been accredited with Baby-Friendly Hospital Status.
Among the criteria to attain Baby-Friendly Status are to have written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all healthcare staff, inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breast feeding, and give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk unless medically indicated otherwise.
It is fitting to note that the Georgetown Public Hospital, where the majority of babies are born, was not accredited.