Breast feeding week address by the Minister of Health

OFFICIAL ADDRESS IN RECOGNITION OF BREASTFEEDING WEEK 2019

By Hon Wendy C. Phipps
Minister with Responsibility for Health, Social Services,
Community Development and Gender Affairs
Sunday, August 18, 2019
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FeFellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts and Nevis:
During the period August 18-24, 2019 the Federal Ministry of Health will
be highlighting the practice and benefits of breastfeeding via the
celebration of Breastfeeding Week. In keeping with the tenets of
World Breastfeeding Week – which was held from August 1-7, 2019 –
our local activities are being observed under the theme “Protect
Breastfeeding in the Workplace”. The Federal Ministry of Health
views this week of activities as a perfect opportunity to join with
premiere international health agencies such as the Pan American
Health Organisation (PAHO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO)
in advocating for, sustaining and strengthening – where necessary –
those measures designed “to protect, promote and support the right to
breastfeeding”.
The Federal Ministry of Health has, for decades, consistently advocated
for the time-honoured, maternal practice of breastfeeding, given the
numerous health benefits to both mother and child. Human history
provides undeniable proof that the survival of our race could not have
been possible without the consistent practice of breastfeeding. The
Ministry continues to remind everyone that breastfeeding is a natural
and progressive building block that should immediately follow childbirth.
In this way, our Nation’s children will have the best chance at living
strong, long and resilient lives and, in so doing, minimize the likelihood
of illnesses, diseases and nutritional deficiencies throughout the entire
life course. Breastfeeding’s benefits to the mother are also being
promoted by the Ministry, including the fact that breastfeeding (a)
reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers; (b) assists the uterus in
returning to normal size after childbirth – due to the uterine contractions
produced during breastfeeding times; (c) helps in spacing of
pregnancies; and (d) improves the bonding experience between mother
and child.
As the leading global health agency, the WHO is a keen and consistent
advocate of breastfeeding, and has determined that the chances of
survival among newborns would be dramatically increased if they are
breastfed within one hour after birth. Together with the United Nations
Education and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO), the WHO also
recommends that breastfeeding be exclusively done for the first six (6)

months of life, and that solid foods be introduced at (six) 6 months – to
complement on-demand breastfeeding – up to age 2 or beyond.
The WHO has also estimated that the lives of over 820,000 infants
under the age of five (5) could be spared if breastfeeding practices are
optimized. Moreover, the good nutrition provided in breast milk is
clearly linked to improvements in Intelligence Quotient (IQ), school
attendance, and higher incomes in adulthood – as children who are
healthy and well-fed learn better, and generally obtain better grades
and higher levels of education which together improve earnings over
time. Unfortunately, poor nutrition is clearly linked to some 45% of all
global deaths of children2
. In 2016 alone, some 155 million children
under the age of five (5) were deemed to be too short for their age, while
about 52 million were deemed to be too thin for their height, and another
41 million were classified as overweight or obese. However, it is being
reported globally that only two out of every five newborns are breastfed
within one hour of birth. Additionally, only 40 percent of children under
the age of six (6) months are being breastfed exclusively. The other 60
percent are being fed a combination of breast milk and complementary
food.
Thankfully, these unfortunate global statistics on breastfeeding do not
mirror the current situation in the wider Caribbean, and more

2 This figure of 45% of all global deaths of children being due to poor nutrition equates to some 2.7 million
children.

specifically, St. Kitts and Nevis. We are happy to report that in the
Federation our exclusive breastfeeding rates are relatively high and
continue to increase. Data obtained from both JNF General Hospital on
St. Kitts and Alexandra Hospital on Nevis demonstrate that the rate
among newborns with exclusive breastfeeding by the time of hospital
discharge was 80% to 100% during the period February – May 2019.
By extension, during the same period, both hospitals recorded a range
of 85% to 100% for babies who were breastfed within one (1) of hour of
life. Data obtained from the USAID Assist project demonstrate that at
the start of the project in September 2018 only 40% of babies were
being breastfed within one hour of birth. However, by May 2019, this
figure shot up to 100%. Marked improvements were also seen insofar
as (a) skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby immediately after
birth; and (b) the number of babies who were exclusively breastfed by
the time of hospital discharge. A rate of 100% was achieved in the
month of May 2019 alone.
It is worthy of note that breastfeeding policies and practices in St. Kitts
and Nevis continue to be informed by a number of international
agreements and guidelines pertaining to breastfeeding, and maternal
and child health. These include the “Innocenti Declaration on the
Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding and the
WHO/UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, both of which I will
describe as follows:

➢ “Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support
of Breastfeeding” which was endorsed in Florence, Italy in 1990
by the United Nations (UN) Member States. The Declaration
acknowledges that the practice of breastfeeding provides infants
with the best nutrition possible in early life, and lowers the
likelihood of infant deaths and disabilities, while benefitting
mothers with lower risks of developing breast and ovarian
cancers. Among other matters, the Declaration also emphasizes
that women should be free to practice breastfeeding in both the
workplace and the community, and that any barriers to such must
be eliminated. The Declaration also called on governments to
establish positive breastfeeding policies in collaboration with key
stakeholders including parents, and organisations representing
workers and employers.
➢ The WHO/UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative – launched in
1991 – which outlines 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding to be
followed by all Governments and private sector agencies when
providing maternity services to mothers and expectant mothers.
These steps are as follows:
1) Having a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely
communicated to all health care staff.
2) Training all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this
breastfeeding policy.

3) Informing all pregnant women about the benefits and
management of breastfeeding.
4) Helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within a half-hour of birth.
5) Showing mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain
lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.
6) Giving newborn infants no food or drink other than breastmilk,
unless medically indicated.
7) Practicing rooming-in — allow mothers and infants to remain
together — 24 hours a day.
8) Encouraging breastfeeding on demand.
9) Giving no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or
soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
10) Fostering the establishment of breastfeeding support
groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital
or clinic.
As Minister of State with responsibility for health I am happy to report
that at all 17 of our Nation’s health centres and four hospitals, these
critical steps are being practiced and encouraged by our health care
workers, particularly those charged with maternal and child health
programming. As was done during last year’s celebration of
Breastfeeding Week, I again take this opportunity to commend all of
our public sector healthcare workers for their untiring efforts in the
encouragement and advocacy of breastfeeding among nursing and
expectant mothers in our Country.

In light of the fact that the theme for this year’s Breastfeeding Week is
“Protect Breastfeeding in the Workplace” it should be noted, that
while it is not common national practice for lactating mothers to bring
their infants on the job and breastfeed them there, it has been the
practice of successive governments in St. Kitts and Nevis to support
and promote maternity rights and employment protection during
maternity leave. History would record that St. Kitts and Nevis is long
past the era of granting just one (1) month’s maternity leave to women.
By the mid-1980s the PAM-Administration would have considerably
extended maternity leave to 13 weeks of paid leave, with 65% of normal
wages paid by Social Security. In many cases, private sector
employers have observed the unwritten practice of paying the
remaining 35% of wages directly to employees during maternity leave,
so that they would not be financially challenged during their time away
from work.
Our Government notes that United Nations’ (UN) agencies such as
PAHO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are now
advocating for wide-scale ratification of the optional ILO Convention
#183 on Maternity Protection which calls for, among other matters (1)
the granting of a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave; (2) the granting
of at least one (1) daily break for breastfeeding or reduced hours of work
with pay to accommodate breastfeeding; and (3) the protection of
pregnant and breastfeeding women from work that would compromise
their health or that of their unborn children, as determined by a

competent State authority. The matter of ILO Convention #183 will be
reviewed by Government with a view to assessing how national law and
practice can be enhanced in order to further protect the maternal rights
of pregnant and breastfeeding women.
A programme of activities for the 2019 observance of Breastfeeding
Week has been prepared by the Nutrition Programme staff within the
Federal Ministry of Health. The highlights of these activities are as
follows:
• Locally produced breastfeeding documentary – to be aired
daily in work places and health facilities throughout the week.
• Locally produced breastfeeding animation – to be aired
throughout the week in the following locations: St. Kitts and Nevis
Eateries; St. Kitts and Nevis Ferry Terminals; and the Pelican Mall
in St. Kitts;
• Twenty-hour (20) training programme on the Baby Friendly
Hospital Initiative for Community & Maternity Nurses –
tentatively scheduled for August 19th – 21st
It should be noted that a number of activities have been planned for the
island of Nevis. It must also be noted that at least one activity was
executed in advance of Breastfeeding Week, that is, an appearance on
the weekly Government Information Programme, “Working for You”

which aired on Wednesday, August 14th on ZIZ Radio & Television on
the topic of Breastfeeding and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative I
mentioned earlier. I take this opportunity to commend the following
maternity nurses who took part in that programme, namely Assistant
Nurse Manager Jacqueline Duncan; Clinical Instructor, Mary Caines;
and Staff Nurse Naomi Brownbill of JNF General Hospital.
The Federal Ministry of Health again commends the staff of the Nutrition
Surveillance Programme for their ongoing efforts in planning and
preparing for this annual week of activities in recognition of the
importance of Breastfeeding to infant health and development. The
Ministry also salutes the consistent efforts of our nurses and midwives;
general healthcare practitioners; and obstetricians, gynaecologists and
paediatricians who continue to advocate for health and wellness for our
people throughout the life course. The Ministry recognises that without
good health and wellness St. Kitts and Nevis cannot be a prosperous
Nation where the goals of development can be fully realised and the
gains can be shared by all.
On behalf of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis I am pleased to
declare Breastfeeding Week 2019 in the Federation officially open.
May God bless us with good health and well-being.