Why breastfeeding and work can, and should, go together

Returning to work after maternity leave rates as one of the top reasons why mothers stop breastfeeding their babies before they should. The 2017 World Breastfeeding Week runs from the 1st to the 7th of August with the aim of uniting all sectors of society in the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding. The campaign, co-ordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), identifies four critical focus areas, one of which is women’s productivity and work.

ADSA_Breastfeeding ImageWorking SA mums are entitled to a minimum of four consecutive months of maternity leave. Many take at least one month of that leave prior to the birth, and then make their return to work when their infants are just around three months old. However, exclusive breastfeeding of an infant from birth to six months is what is recommended as optimal nutrition by the World Health Organisation. Therefore, the only way that working new mums can meet these important health standards is if they can breastfeed or express breast milk for some months at their workplaces.

 

The benefits of creating workplaces that are friendly to nursing mums go beyond just the physical welfare of our new generations. Cath Day, registered dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa) points out: “There is a vast body of scientific research that has shown that breastfeeding, as exclusive nutrition in the first six months and then as a supplementary food for two years and beyond, also protects and benefits the physical health of the mother; while impacting positively on her emotional well-being as she forms the essential bond with her new child. It is clearly in the interests of the employers of child-bearing women to protect, promote and support them during the times when they are breastfeeding because companies need their employees to be healthy and optimally productive.”

ADSA recommends that businesses formalise their support of breastfeeding in the policies, standards and practices of their employee wellness programmes.

So what can businesses do practically to protect and support the nursing mums on their workforce?

  • Uphold the Law – Corporates must recognise and facilitate the legal rights of SA breastfeeding mothers enshrined in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. Up until their babies are six months old, working mums are entitled to two, paid 30-minute breaks every work day for breastfeeding or expressing milk.
  • Know and promote the benefits of breastfeeding – “It helps to have employers who are knowledgeable about why breastfeeding is so important and a commitment to protecting, supporting and promoting breastfeeding in the workplace,” says Cath Day. “As part of the employee wellness programme, registered dietitians can be engaged to make presentations to all staff on the advantages of a breastfeeding-friendly work environment and how to make it happen in your company. The straightforward facts and the inarguable science go a long way to reducing the discomforts and stigmas people might attach to breastfeeding.”
  • Provide the place – Nowadays it is widely regarded as completely unacceptable for breastfeeding mums to have to lock themselves in a public toilet, or their car, to breastfeed or express milk at work because they have nowhere else to go. Many companies realise that a breastfeeding-friendly workplace means providing a secure and comfortable space for working mums to spend their 30-minute breastfeeding breaks. Preferably, this private room should have a door that locks, comfortable seating, plug points for breast pumps and a refrigerator for the safe storage of breast milk.
  • Be flexible and adaptable – Part-time, flexi-time or temporary work-from-home plans can be very effective solutions for breastfeeding mums, and should especially be employed by companies who provide no proper facilities for the legal breastfeeding breaks in their workplace.
  • Offer child-care facilities – A number of progressive companies with a clear focus on employee engagement provide workplace child care facilities for the babies and small children of their employees. This is ideal for breastfeeding mums as they can more easily and quickly breastfeed their infants and need to express less milk.

ADSA spokesperson Zelda Ackerman, whose areas of expertise include baby and child feeding, urges new working mums to know their rights and to get the support that they need from their bosses and colleagues so that going back to work doesn’t become a barrier to the continued breastfeeding of their infant. “It is really important for South Africa as a country to transform to a culture of being breastfeeding-friendly in every environment,” she says, “We have to consider the potential health burdens of being a country with exceptionally low rates of breastfeeding, and turn this trend around. From the family home to the work environment to society at large, breastfeeding mothers need support.”

Zelda’s top tips for breastfeeding mums returning to work include: 

  • Before your return to work, give yourself enough time to get to grips with finding the pump that works best for you and regularly expressing milk – and give your baby enough time to get used to expressed breast milk. Time and practice will help you both to establish this as a stress-free routine before the big change up ahead.
  • Also, ahead of time, build up a stock of breast milk at home – it can be refrigerated and frozen. Stored breast milk should always be dated, and you retain more nutritional quality if you refrigerate it immediately after you have expressed.
  • On your return to work, have straightforward conversations with your bosses and/or team members, as necessary, so that they are clear about your breastfeeding goals and needs. Be clear about your legal right to two, paid 30 minute breastfeeding breaks each working day, and establish with them how this is going to work best for you and what accommodations you will need.
  • If you encounter resistance or lack of support in your workplace, get help rather than give up breastfeeding. Other working mothers in your workplace and HR personnel may help to raise awareness of the importance of your continued breastfeeding. External sources of help can include breastfeeding support organisations and registered dietitians.
  • You can reduce discomfort from engorgement and pace your two breastfeeding breaks optimally at work if you arrange your workday mornings so that you give your baby a good feed that ends just before you leave for work; and then breastfeed your baby again as soon as you get home. Co-ordinate this well with your baby’s caregiver so that they don’t feed the expressed breast milk just before you get home. If you are breastfeeding a baby older than six months of age, make sure your caregiver doesn’t provide late afternoon snacks so that your child is ready for a good breastfeed when you get home from work.
  • Be patient and resilient. Our modern world doesn’t necessarily make breastfeeding easy, natural and stress-free. But it is as important as it has ever been to both you and your baby. The science is clear, the more you can; the better for you, your baby and our society at large.

Breastfeeding and Work – Let’s Make it Work!

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Every year, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from 1-7 August and this year’s theme is ‘Breastfeeding and Work – Let’s make it work!’.

Optimal infant and young child feeding is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘exclusive breastfeeding from birth for the first six months of life and starting from six months of age, feeding safe and appropriate complementary foods, along with continued breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond’

South Africa’s paediatric food-based dietary guidelines state ‘Give only breast milk, and no other foods or liquids, to your baby for the first six months of life’.

“Women from all communities need to be supported to continue to breastfeed when they return to work, and everyone should work together to ensure that breastfeeding mothers receive the support they need”, says ADSA spokesperson, Catherine Pereira. Most women do not receive adequate maternity protection and returning to work is often a barrier to breastfeeding because a mother becomes separated from her baby for long periods of time. Many mothers struggle to balance breastfeeding and paid work, therefore stopping breastfeeding earlier than they should.

Did you know?

  • Breastfeeding mothers in South Africa are protected by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and are legally entitled to two 30-minute breaks per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk if their infants are younger than 6-months!
  • The Act also states that an employee is legally entitled to at least four consecutive months maternity leave, during which time breastfeeding can be established at home.
  • In 2011, the Tshwane Declaration of Support for Breastfeeding in South Africa was signed by the Minister of Health and many other stakeholders. This stated that “the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding requires commitment and action from all stakeholders, including government and legislators, community leaders, traditional leaders and healers, civil society, HCWs and managers, researchers, the private sector, employers, the women’s sector, the media and every citizen”.

How can we ensure that the workplace is breastfeeding- and mother-friendly?

  • Have a breastfeeding-friendly room, corner or space in your workplace where mothers can breastfeed their babies or express milk.
  • Ensure that there are refrigeration facilities for mothers to store breast milk if they are expressing.
  • Support part-time work arrangements for breastfeeding staff.
  • Make sure that your employees or employers know the legal rights of breastfeeding women.
  • Show a positive attitude towards friends and colleagues that are breastfeeding mothers.
  • If you are a woman who managed to breastfeed when you went back to work, share your experiences as inspiration for other women.
  • Fathers and partners should read up on breastfeeding and how they can support women.
  • Breastfeeding women should form or join support groups, such as La Leche League or contact a lactation consultant.
  • Listen to women’s needs and respect a woman’s decision on infant feeding and offer support for her choice without prejudice.

Do you know why breastfeeding is so important for your baby?

  • Give your baby only breast milk for the first six months; no other food or drink is needed at this age. If a baby is given other food and drink, they will consume less breast milk and receive less nutrition.
  • Babies are protected against infection when they are breastfed. In addition to containing all of the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months, breast milk also contains antibodies that help to protect your baby against illness.

Did you know that a dietitian can assist you with breastfeeding? 

Dietitians are trained to assist mothers with breastfeeding as well as to assist mothers with continued breastfeeding when returning to work. Click here to find a Registered Dietitian in your area visit the Association for Dietetics in South Africa’s website.

For information and resources on WBW 2015, including posters, infographics and other documents from around the world, visit www.worldbreastfeedingweek.org