The recent protest in the city of Nairobi by a section of mums, gender activists and legal practitioners sparked an interesting debate on women’s rights on breastfeeding. In as much as the protest managed to get the point across in regard to breastfeeding in public more needs to be done to push for mother and child rights in the workplace. Workplace culture should consider embracing breastfeeding moms and accord them necessary support if at all women are going to be valuable workers who are not discriminated based on their God-given responsibility to nurture young ones. Health workers recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months. However, if you’re a working mum, it’s difficult to keep up with workplace challenges. Breastfeeding alone has it’s own challenges. From experiencing sore nipples, low milk supply to the emotional roller coaster ride of having to deal with your baby’s refusal to feed. Then when you have to return to work, there’s the added factor of having to express milk and leaving your baby in someone else’s care.
Most women in employment will agree that part of the challenges include:
#1 Lack of time to express milk
Depending on the industry or profession, it may be difficult for mums to make full use of the maternity leave days in full. This could stem from employment challenges in the country and contractual obligations that put a breastfeeding employee at a disadvantage. Sometimes a mother is forced to go to work after a month or 2 months in spite of the law giving 3 months maternity leave. With such work schedules, it’s tough for nursing mothers to find the time to express their breast milk regularly.
A mother who finds themself in such a situation should speak to their boss about their current situation. Discuss on an alternative work arrangement for a number of months, probably the first six. To maximise on pumping sessions at work, it is important to have practice sessions at home. Before you get a pump, assess your work activities to see what pump works best, a manual or electric.
If women keep up with the breastfeeding debate on different fronts and especially at the workplace, it can become a natural part of work if they don’t give up.
#2 Lack of proper nursing facilities or resources
It is ironic that most Kenyan companies will advertise roles that seek to attract suitable female candidates but rarely do companies consider having facilities that cater to needs such as nursing rooms for breastfeeding moms. As a result, working mothers are forced to utilise store rooms or toilets. This is strongly discouraged as there can be high chances of contaminating the milk from touching the door knobs or the toilet seat.
Companies should set HR policies that allocate a room to cater for breastfeeding mothers. At a personal level, look for a closed office space where you can close the door and put up a sign that alerts colleagues you are breastfeeding.
#3 Unsupportive bosses or working in a male dominated industry
As a young mother, i remember having to explain to my boss how my househelp has gone missing or my child got sick in the night. Sometimes i was required to work late into the night on projects which affected my sleep, feeding and breastfeeding patterns. There are mothers who are lucky to have bosses who are pro family and have developed an empathetic culture that supports the needs of women. In other job sectors, women are required to go out in the field or engage in constant travel. You may find your male colleagues being insensitive to your need to take as many breaks as possible to breastfeed. It’s easy to be misunderstood or laughed at and this is psychologically disturbing or draining to a breastfeeding mum.
Speak up. Sometimes bosses do not know the benefits or advantages of breastfeeding. They could also be unaware of your struggles as a working mother. Arrange for a flexible work arrangement with the HR or supervisor but ensure your performance and productivity remain consistent. In my opinion , I feel government through health workers should work in partnership with corporate bodies to advocate for women and child rights on breastfeeding. This will ultimately create a win- win situation for working mothers who will begin to feel appreciated, a company that contributes to the well being of employees and a country that’s striving to have a generation of healthy growing children.