Unicef calls for New Zealand to extend paid parental leave
One simple breastfeeding practice could save hundreds of thousands of childrens' lives worldwide and save the global economy billions of dollars, Unicef says.
Here it is: breastfeeding should be initiated within one hour of birth, continued exclusively for six months and continued with complementary foods to two years of age or beyond.
It is a straightforward plan. But according to new research from the United Nations Childrens Fund, the whole world - including New Zealand - does badly at sticking to its recommendations for breastfeeding.
New Zealand currently offers 18 weeks of paid parental leave which means mums often head back to work after four months and babies don't get the recommended six months of exclusive breast feeding.
August 1 is World Breastfeeding Week, and Unicef is using its timing ahead of the September election to refresh its call for all NZ political parties to commit to six months of paid parental leave.
Unicef New Zealand Child Rights and Youth Participation Manager Jacqui Southey says an extra eight weeks isn't a huge leap for policy but would make an massive difference for mothers and children. It would help reduce the "sharp drop" observed in the number of exclusively breastfeeding mothers at the end of the four-month period.
A "scorecard" from Unicef ranking countries including developing nations on their commitment to breastfeeding puts NZ about half way up.
"I can't see any reason for us to not be right at the top," Southey says. "We have all the right factors, we just need the political policies.
"I'm hoping this... will be a light bulb moment to put the [six-month paid parental leave] policy back on the table."
In 2016, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said he understood an extension of leave to 26 weeks would cost New Zealand an extra $150 million to $200m. But Unicef says properly breastfed kids put less strain on the economy in the long-term, saying that every US$1 ($NZ1.34) spent on breastfeeding support has a $35 return for the economy.
Children who are breastfed for the recommended period become healthier and smarter, put less strain on healthcare and contribute more to the economy, Unicef says.
Worldwide, breastfed children have at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children, thanks to greater protection from disease and less exposure to other potentially contaminated food sources. Unicef estimates that globally more than 820,000 children under five and 20,000 women die each year as a result of not breastfeeding, or poor breastfeeding practices.
Annually, about $300 billion is lost globally from the economy due to issues linked to inadequate breastfeeding, according to the research.
Exclusive breast feeding means the infant receives only breast milk. No other liquids or solids are given - not even water - with the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals, or medicines.