The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommends exclusive breastfeeding (giving a baby no other food or drink) for the first six months after birth. After this time, breastfeeding is recommended alongside solid food for at least 2 years. Therefore, it is likely that the mother will still be breastfeeding when she returns to work after giving birth. Returning to work does not mean a mother has to stop breastfeeding although she might face challenges such as insufficient paid parental leave for some workplaces, inadequate space and storage facilities at work, and insufficient breaks to express breastmilk or go to feed the baby.
Over the last few years, many workplaces have become more welcoming to breastfeeding mothers returning to their jobs. It should be noted that supporting breastfeeding at workplaces also has business benefits, which include reduced staff absenteeism due to child sickness, and increased staff morale, thus reducing staff turn over and training costs. UNICEF identified the following four major work policy areas for children’s well-being and women’s empowerment:
- Providing sufficient paid leave to all parents in both formal and informal economies, to meet the needs of their young children.
- Providing support for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, and to continue breastfeeding for as long as they choose as per World Health Organization recommendations.
- Ensuring that all children have access to affordable, good-quality childcare.
- Providing child benefits and adequate wages to help families provide for young children.
It is therefore recommended that the mothers should discuss with their employers the arrangements to continue breastfeeding and request for flexible working hours planned around their breastfeeding needs. They should also request for clean and private areas for breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk. Working mothers can also visit childcare centers during work breaks or arrange for babysitters to bring their babies to the workplace to breastfeed. Additionally, mothers can opt to express breastmilk thus combine breastfeeding with bottle feeding to fit around their working schedules.
As we celebrate world breastfeeding week, we encourage all employers to support breastfeeding at workplaces through written policies, as well as breastfeeding education for mothers, managers, and co-workers. Employers should facilitate breastfeeding-friendly environments in the workplace (rooms/spaces and breaktimes ) in which women feel confident and without fear of being stigmatized or discriminated against. This will increase the productivity of breastfeeding mothers at their workplaces.
Authors: Leah Mbabazi, Senior Project Officer and clinical researcher at Infectious Diseases Institute, Makerere University, and Ritah Nakijoba, Study Coordinator and clinical researcher at Infectious Diseases Institute, Makerere University.