Breastfeeding At Workplaces: Reality Or Mirage

THE world over, companies are struggling to implement breastfeeding friendly working environments owing to conflicting interests chief among them being the fear of losing out on productive hours and profits at the expense of breastfeeding. 

By Michael Gwarisa

As a result, most companies have developed a negative attitude towards women of childbearing age with some companies going to the extent of hiring women only on a fixed contract basis just to avoid keeping them around forever.

In Kenya  however women have come out guns blazing against government and the private sector to ensure they drive a mandatory breast feeding at workplaces environment through the  Breastfeeding Mothers Bill.

   According to the bill, employers are expected to allow their employees to breastfeed for a maximum of 40 minutes in every 4 hours worked. Any person who owns, leases or rents a building whose maximum occupancy is 30 persons will also be expected to install a baby changing facility.

Any contravention of the provisions of the Bill will attract a fine not exceeding KES 500,000 (£3900) and/or imprisonment for not more than 1 year.

In Zimbabwe however, basic human resources practice only allows a woman to take at least three months  maternity leave  and allowing mothers to breastfeed at workplaces is still optional amongst companies.

Dexter Chagwena

This according to Ministry of Health and Child  Care Nutrition Advocacy and Communication Consultant, Dexter Chagwena is a disservice and a violation of of the baby’s rights.

Breastfeeding generally is not just about feeding the child, it goes beyond that. Its all about fixing the brain of your child for good. If you don’t breastfeed your children, they are not going to be as  developed as they can. The brain branches will not be developed as they can be, the brain branches will be short and they will not perform well in school

We realize that breastfeeding is clearly effective and reduces mortality and disease. 98 percent of our babies are breastfed in Zimbabwe. But then after six months, when we still expect breastfeeding to be as high as 98 percent, you find thats its low, at a mere 61 percent. Going to work has always been shown to be a barrier to breastfeeding,” said Chagwena.

He added that even though Zimbabwe has got legislation which allows women to go on a 98 days maternity leave and a one hour breastfeeding break, it was not enough to bridge the gap.

“Mothers nowadays believe that it is difficult to breastfeed while going to work. Even if you talk about the culture of expression, most women do not buy the idea. 

“The workplaces that we come from are not conducive for them to be able for them to breastfeed. Thats is where the case of parent friendly workplaces come into play.”

He also said Human Resources persons and company owners forget that most women even after the three months leave, the breasts will still be oozing of breast milk and women in most instances have to express their milk in uncomfortable conditions such as toilets or in the back of their cars.

According to statistics, women make up 52 percent of Zimbabwe’s work. Most companies however view the issue of breastfeeding workplaces as a barrier to productivity especially in Financial Auditing firms where employees are paid on commission.

“As a country, what we are trying to do is to have employers, ministry of health and other partners to see how we can initiate and kick-start learning from other companies that are doing it in the country.

“We have looked at working women being left out in issues to do with breast feeding support and protection, thus we are advocating for creation of parent friendly work places where there are initiatives that are put in place to support women to be able to breast feed,” said Chagwena.

According to Convention 183 (C128), no woman is supposed to be discriminated for her maternity status at workplaces. 

Meanwhile, some big companies in Zimbabwe have adopted Breastfeeding friendly workplaces with the likes of Lafarge Cement, Nestle, and Chogugudza Primary in Chirumhanzu having already set the pace.

Nutritionist with ZCSOSUNA, Kudakwashe Zombe said Zimbabwe’s economy was losing out millions of dollars in health care as government has to pump out money to cater for unhealthy children who become vulnerable to any forms of infection due to poor breastfeeding practices. 

“Failure to support women to optimally breastfeed is costing countries billions of dollars in losses to their economies. These economic losses are attributable to higher mortality in women and children, higher healthcare costs as a result of increased illnesses and disease, and lost future wages for individuals as a result of reduced cognitive capacity in children who are not breastfed in accordance with global recommendations.

“Good nutrition enables children to develop healthy immune systems, reducing future spending on health care throughout their lives – the estimated costs to health systems to treat cases of diseases that could be prevented with increased breastfeeding (which are calculated using country-specific treatment unit cost data),” said Zombe.

In China Inadequate breastfeeding attributes to 16,146 child deaths due to preventable diarrhea and pneumonia and 19,651 deaths in women from cancers and type II diabetes each year. Together, these deaths cost the Chinese economy an estimated $6 billion.

Zombe added that good nutrition also unlocks children’s potential. Children who get the right nutrition in the first 1000 days will earn on average 21% more as adults.

Undernourished children are therefore likely to complete fewer years of school, more time to complete their grades and have a reduced earning potential in their lifetime earnings

“Research has shown that breastfeeding is associated with a 2.62 point IQ increase and that an increase of one standard deviation in IQ leads to a 17 percent increase in wage earnings in the future.”

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