Breastfeeding allowance was one of the main pledges of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa that could benefit country significantly, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said during the meet the press session on January 25.

He said that the government would come up with a good package and mothers who did not fulfil the eligibility criteria would also be taken care of, but differently.

The breastfeeding allowance will not cover mothers who are entitled to six months maternity leave because they are paid salary while on leave.

Prime minister said that focus would be on the economically disadvantaged mothers who could not afford to be at home to breastfeed their babies for at least six months. “So, on that front, we were and are still very passionate.”

A mother needed nutritious diet, physical and mental rest to produce qualitative and quantitative breastmilk, Lyonchhen said. “If we invest here, we are actually taking care of the problem from day one. Malnutrition or stunting is a problem in the country and this will be taken care of.”

He said that the impact of the pledge would be visible only in about 20 years’ time.

He said the government was trying to find ways and means to support this pledge. It is not a budgeted programme in the 12thPlan.

There would be certain criteria set for mothers not entitled to the six months maternity leave to be entitled to the allowance.

He said the country was not able to get 100 percent antenatal check-up attendance, hospital delivery, and immunisation coverage. Newborns and the mothers missed regular check-up at the hospitals.

Antenatal check-up attendance, institutional delivery, immunization coverage will be among the inclusion criteria for breastfeeding allowance.

“We want the mother and the child to come to the hospital at least once a month so that they get the timely check-up. Mothers who fulfil these criteria are eligible for the allowance,” he said.

He said that the main reason for the mothers not being able to have 100 percent antenatal check-up attendance, institutional delivery and immunization was because of cost involved.

“They need to be at their work to earn their bread. We are giving them money to earn their bread,” he said. “If the mothers are paid daily wage, their only job is to take care of the baby, breastfeed them and to come to hospital for their regular checkup and immunisation.”

Lyonchhen said that unlike the maternity leave, mothers could be paid the allowance a month before their due date so that antenatal check-ups was covered.

The government will keep a record of the mothers from the time they conceive and have their first antenatal check-up.

He said that the down side would be that mothers who did not fulfil the criteria would be left behind.

Dechen Tshomo