June 7, 2021 | White Paper
Breastfeeding and Lactation Support in the workplace.
Why is it important?
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Breastfeeding and lactation – normal processes that occur in the female body often get negatively associated within the workplace.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) states that children should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives. In fact, they share that the best practice of increased breastfeeding “could prevent 823,000 deaths of children under 5 years globally and 20,000 deaths in women with breast cancer each year.”
The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) developed the Maternity Protection Convention No. 183 of 2000 and Maternity Protection Recommendation No 191 of 2000. The ILO states that there should be “at least 18 weeks of paid maternity leave for new mothers as well as paid breastfeeding breaks and hygienic facilities in the workplace.”
Benefits of Supporting Breastfeeding in the Workplace
Supporting breastfeeding employees results in a win-win for all. The mother and child are not the only winners in this equation. By extension, the family benefits. However, in the grand scheme of things, from a company perspective, businesses have a lot to gain as well.
There tends to be:
- Reduced absence of a new-born mother due to child sickness (it is reported that breastfed babies are generally healthier and do not get sick often)
- An increase in staff morale and loyalty as well as a high rate of new-born employees returning to work
Additionally, supported breastfeeding employees tend to report sustained productivity within the parameters of the support offered by their employers.
Though benefits are easily stated, it should not be lost that some companies face actual and perceived barriers to breastfeeding support. These barriers include:
- Physical space – some companies lack the bandwidth to add safe spaces for mothers to either express and store milk or actually breastfeed their babies
- Cost and loss of productivity – some believe that a loss in worktime reduces overall productivity
Why is it important to support breastfeeding and lactating employees?
In truth, the bigger question is ‘Why is Breastfeeding Important?’. With that more general question, the question that links to the workplace is easily addressed.
UNICEF points out that breastfeeding – ultimately breastfeeding support includes but is not limited to the following:
- As a foundation for nutrition and health, breastfeeding contributes to the achievement of a more prosperous and sustainable future for the planet
- Breastfeeding is linked to better nutrition, health and greater well-being for children and mothers which contributes to central goals of the Sustainable Development Agenda
Ways to Support Breastfeeding in the Workplace
- Foster a breast-feeding culture in the workplace. Start with educating staff. Some people still believe that it’s okay to have cleavage shown but seeing a breastfeeding mother is unacceptable in the workplace.
- Have a private room/space in the office where mothers can pump. Make the space comfortable and safe. Mothers should not have to pump in a bathroom
- Have a refrigerator. This facilitates the proper storage of breast milk that babies can get later on.
- Be sensitive to off days as returning to work is very emotional and be willing to lend a shoulder or listening ear and ease the parent back into work and hectic assignments. Consider, as well, a therapist for new-born mothers in the office.