“Breast is best” is an old adage passed down from generation to generation of mothers.
It’s been backed up by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and countless other respected health bodies, which all say babies should be fed exclusively with breast milk for the first six months of their life because of the health advantages to both children and their mums.
Breast milk helps babies grow healthy and strong and protects them from illnesses. And according to experts, breast-fed babies have fewer problems than those who aren’t breast-fed.
Barbados is on a renewed drive to encourage more women to breastfeed and there are proposals on the table for a breastfeeding policy in the workplace. This issue was widely discussed at a forum hosted by the Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Foundation (BNCF) at the Savannah Hotel on Tuesday.
Speakers there urged organisations in both the public and private sector to create friendlier working environments for their female staff who have just given birth and are breastfeeding their children.
Former Minister of Health Dame Billie Miller underscored the importance of breastfeeding, noting that: “Traditionally, breastfeeding was something we took for granted; mothers would breastfeed their children, supplementing with boiled barley and other grains, and this would normally go on for a year or until they got pregnant again. Today, we [recognize] the importance of it as a means to stave off the advent of childhood obesity and the chronic non-communicable diseases that often go along with it.”
Following on from that point, Professor Sir Trevor Hassell of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition gave some insight into the high incidences of childhood obesity in the Caribbean, with specific reference to a survey carried out in Barbados some years ago.
“Up to 30 per cent of children in the Caribbean are overweight or obese. A survey in Barbados said 18.5 per cent of students ate fast foods three or more times per week, 73 per cent drank at least one beverage high in sugar per day, and 15 per cent reported low consumption of fruit and vegetables in a month. In terms of physical activity, 70 per cent of the children reported low levels and 63 per cent engaged in sedentary activities.”
Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations Colin Jordan said, “Statistics show that the number of overweight children under five is estimated to be over 41 million. We should be cognizant, therefore that every possibility exists these children will become overweight or obese adults. They are likely to develop chronic diseases at an early age. The challenges associated with being obese as children are clear when they are made to feel uncomfortable by their peers, so we must combat it via lifestyle changes.
“Breastfeeding ensures both child health and survival. It protects against life threatening diseases, it protects against obesity and the onset of non-communicable diseases. Since it is the best option for our children, we should promote it not only among families but also in the workplace.”
The minister added: “In lower income countries and among the Hispanic and black population in the United States, out of economic necessity women often have to go back out to work shortly after giving birth and have to stop breastfeeding.”
Sir Trevor stated that in drafting their Health and Wellness in the Workplace Policy, the Barbados Workers Union advocated the introduction of facilities that would allow women to breastfeed their babies or “express” milk for them while on the job. “The challenge I will give the BNCF is to incorporate this into the workplace policy, discuss it with the BWU and other stakeholders, and once this is done, I support advocacy to make sure it gets put in place.”
Jordan agreed with this sentiment, saying that, “It is better for companies to take initiatives of this nature, rather than having to pass legislation where they might feel coerced into taking action. So we are asking them to provide breaks, safe places outside of bathrooms so they can express their milk, along with sanitized and safe storage facilities for the milk. All of this can be included in a breastfeeding at work policy. We must create an environment that allows for healthy parents and healthy children, which will reduce the cost of treating these diseases.” (DH/SD)