KIGALI, Rwanda - Up to 87 per cent of Rwanda’s mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies during the first six months of life. But the older a baby is, the less likely they are to continue breastfeeding or receive a balanced diet. Only 64 per cent of children in Rwanda receive complementary foods after six months, and just 18 per cent of children under two years consume adequately healthy and diverse foods.
“Beyond the first six months of life, children need to continue breastfeeding. It helps give babies the best possible start in life and protects children against illnesses and diseases,” says Alexis Mucumbitsi, Head of Nutrition and Hygiene within Rwanda’s National Early Childhood Development Programme (NECDP). “A longer period of breastfeeding also promotes brain development and lays the foundation for lifelong learning.”
UNICEF and Rwanda’s National Early Childhood Development Programme (NECDP) recommend that mothers begin breastfeeding within the first hour of a baby’s birth, and then breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. It is also recommended that women breastfeed their children for at least two years and supplement breastmilk with other safe and nutritious foods after the baby turns six months.
But this great start to life depends on family-friendly policies to support breastfeeding. Although mothers are the ones who breastfeed their children, they cannot do it alone.
To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week this year in Rwanda, UNICEF and NECDP are calling on the private sector to invest in breastfeeding spaces at work, paid breastfeeding breaks, and parental leave of at least 18 weeks.
“We have already seen Rwanda’s tea sector begin to invest in family-friendly policies like flexible working hours for new parents, safe and comfortable breastfeeding rooms, and child care options when the child grows, but we need greater commitment from other private sector industries,” says Ted Maly, UNICEF Representative in Rwanda.
When a child is malnourished before age two, these deficits are difficult to compensate for later in childhood. Tea companies like SORWATHE are already investing in family-friendly policies to combat young child malnutrition, noting benefits for employees and the company.
“Now that women have space and time to breastfeed at work, their children fall sick less often. We have noticed our workers are happier and come to work regularly,” says Rohith Peiris, Director General of SORWATHE Tea Company.
Support for breastfeeding can increase employee retention, improve job satisfaction and help parents miss fewer days of work. Mothers need comfortable spaces to breastfeed or express milk, plus paid breaks. It's about time.
Notes to Editors:
World Breastfeeding Week is marked annually from 1 to 7 August to highlight the critical importance of breastfeeding for children across the globe. Breastfeeding gives children the healthiest start in life and is one of the simplest, smartest and most cost-effective ways we have of ensuring that all children survive and thrive. In Rwanda, World Breastfeeding Week will be celebrated from 12-16 August with the official launch held in Rusizi District.
UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in Rwanda, visit www.unicef.org/rwanda.