The world is marking Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) and the theme this year is ”Supporting women to combine breastfeeding and work.”
It reminded me of my breastfeeding days. I returned to work after 4 months – and my main concern at the time was where I was going to express. My employer at the time had given me only one hour in a day (for six months) to go home and breastfeed. I had to find a way to keep expressing so that my baby gets the daily amounts she needed. I locked myself in a room – which was not sanitary to express – but I had no choice. I made do with what I had at the time. However, this was still a stressful environment – that led me to supplement with formula.
Have you ever thought what a mother in the informal workforce goes through to continue exclusive breastfeeding? A recent study highlights the challenges women in different settings from urban poor to middle income and rural areas. Imagine a mother who is a casual labourer, is she entitled to maternity leave? And when she returns to work after birth, does she get the same perks as the lady in a ”white collar” job gets? The study shows that work as a barrier to optimal breastfeeding cuts across different social classes.
Kenya is a success story when it comes to breastfeeding. In 2003 only 13% of mothers were breastfeeding exclusively. This year, according to the National Demographic and Health Survey, 61% of mothers of children aged less than six months were breastfeeding exclusively. But more needs to be done to ratify the Maternity Protection Convention.
Yesterday (August 4) in Nairobi, national guidelines were launched as a call for employers to provide a breastfeeding friendly workplace through providing Time, Space and Support for breastfeeding mothers.
These guidelines are crucial to ensuring we meet the WHO recommendations on exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. And if employers – both in the formal and informal sector – are roped into this ideal, mothers across all social classes would have no excuse to give their baby the best!