Lafarge In Revolutionary Breakthrough For Breastfeeding Mothers

BREASTFEEDING is considered a basic need for every infant of breastfeeding age and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a baby should be exclusively breastfed for up to six months before introducing him/her to complimentary foods until at least the age of two years.

By Michael Gwarisa

According to nutrition experts, the first 1000 days are the most crucial for an infant’s brain development and this can only be attained through adequate and exclusive breastfeeding. In developing countries however, poverty and its attendant condition, malnutrition, weaken this foundation, leading to earlier mortality and significant morbidities such as poor health, and more insidiously, substantial loss of neurodevelopmental potential.

In most cases, women of childbearing and productive age find it hard to balance between the demands of breastfeeding and those of work. As a result, they end up introducing the infants to milk formulas and or solids at a very tender age, depriving the little ones of the much needed nourishment associated with breastfeeding.

For a breastfeeding mother, the milk can cause massive discomfort if it not expressed or given to the baby and this affects work output. Talk of the swelling of breasts, the reflex leaking of milk as if the breasts are working on their own clock, amongst a host of other uncomfortable developments. Most organisations regardless of size, deliberately turn a blind eye to the needs of lactating women, forcing them to resort to some unhygienic means of getting rid of the breast milk under unconventional environments.

Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe Ltd, one of the leading cement manufactures in the country has broken the barriers and created an exquisite Lactation Facility for its breastfeeding employees. By merely setting foot in the room, the exotic fragrance, coupled with the bright purple walls gives one a sense of relaxation and belonging.

We try as much as we can to ensure the mothers feel very comfortable and express their milk in privacy,” said Lafarge Communication Manager Tsungie Manyeza in an Interview with HealthTimes during the tour of the facility.

“The Manresa Lactation room is a facility where breast feeding mothers at Lafarge have access to a private, clean and comfortable environment for lactation. Here, they express breast milk and store it in the refrigerator available for them.”

To ensure security and safety of the expressed milk, each mother stores milk in a lockable canister, whose keys only she has access to.

“At day end, they collect the expressed milk and take it home. This facility is part of a well-crafted strategy dubbed STEP which stands for Support, Time Education and Place and its main objective is to create an enabling environment for women to perform at their best when at work while fulfilling their roles as family and community nurturers,” added Manyeza.

The Lafarge Lactation room is a first of its kind in Zimbabwe and breastfeeding employees express breast milk during their two- thirty minute breaks. The facility was established in 2017 and has a carrying capacity of three mothers at any given breastfeeding break.

“Lafarge has over the years scaled up the drive to be a diverse and inclusive workplace. As such, the company continuously seeks ways of ensuring a conducive working environment for all people by putting in place policies adaptable for age, gender, race and physical abilities.

“The lactation room can be used by three women in a period. Each breastfeeding mother breaks to visit the lactation room daily and they alternate use during the days,” said Manyeza.

She added that Lafarge’s maternal policy was informed by research they undertook with the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) where they gathered that supporting breastfeeding was productive.

“This is because by being able to relieve themselves of breast milk, women will be better placed to be more productive. Furthermore, with more access to breast milk, children are less likely to succumb to illness.

“With healthy babies, women will not need to miss out on work often to attend to babies. Therefore, apart from the lactation facility, our policy allows breastfeeding mothers an hour daily to allow them to breastfeed.”

Lafarge currently employs a total of 38 women, making them 25% of the workforce. Apart from the lactation breaks, Lafarge also adheres to the statutory entitlement of maternity leave for all women of child bearing age.

“Also, we are mindful that while maternal care is primary, paternal care is also very important in the early stages after birth. As such, our male employees are offered three days paternity leave when their partners give birth.

“Currently, the facility has not presented any challenges of note. Rather, we are only cognizant of the fact that as our female work force grows, we may need to expand the facility to increase the number of users of the facility at any given time,” she said.

Meanwhile, under the Lafarge STEP program, the company offers an enabling environment that allows women to work comfortably as well as access services they require. One way the company  does this is through a policy on workplace sexual harassment which is widely communicated to all employees and consistently enforced.

“As a sector whose total value chain is male dominated, this policy protects women so that they are able to comfortably come to work without fear of being sexually harassed in any form.

The company also has a fully equipped wellness clinic onsite where a resident doctor, nursing staff and pharmacy are at our disposal.”

The second pillar of Time under the STEP program ensures that women women balance time for motherhood and fully commit to work. The Education pillar helps women to make informed decisions about their sexual reproductive and health choices. The Place pillar is attained through the Lafarge lactation room where women are guaranteed of a safe and hygienic room.

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