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New policy set to improve workplace conditions for breastfeeding mothers

Breastfeeding time: Kenyan employers will soon be required to provide space for lactating mothers to express milk as well as break intervals and refrigeration facilities. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI
Breastfeeding time: Kenyan employers will soon be required to provide space for lactating mothers to express milk as well as break intervals and refrigeration facilities. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI 

A majority of working Kenyan mothers say they would have breast-fed longer had workplaces provided conducive environments to express and store milk.

More working mothers now express milk in workplaces but where there are no adequate facilities to store breast milk, production rapidly declines.

This forces them to introduce formula milk and other foods before their babies are ready. Some have been forced to opt out of the workforce all together.

“Breast-feeding reduces the risk of malnutrition and the new Health Bill will now make it easier for working women to breastfeed longer, Kenyan women value their jobs but they also value being able to provide the best start for their babies,” said Isis Nyong’o Madison, the chief executive of MumsVillage, a group of Kenyan mothers.

A new human resource policy launched last Thursday gave public institutions three years to set up day-care facilities. Employers will also be required to provide space with electric outlets to enable lactating mothers to express milk as well as break intervals and refrigeration facilities.

Lower risk

“Every public service  institution  shall take necessary measures  to provide supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations  with work responsibilities  in particular through  establishment and development of baby care  facilities,” the policy says.

Babies who are breast-fed exclusively for six months are less susceptible to getting leukaemia, recurrent ear infections, diarrhoea and pneumonia, a new study says.

They also have a lower risk, at 19 per cent, of getting leukaemia compared with those who were never breast-fed or did so for a shorter time, according to the study Breast-feeding and Childhood Leukaemia Incidence: A Meta-analysis and Systematic Review.

“Paid and unpaid work is a common obstacle to breast-feeding. Adequate maternity or parental leave, childcare support, nursing breaks and designated spaces to express milk within the workplace are vital supports for working mothers,’’ the report reads.

Unicef recommends that a baby is put on the breast within the first hour of life, a practise that rarely happens especially for mothers who give birth through Caesarean section. Most of these children are breast-fed after seven to eight hours, especially those whose mothers used epidural anaesthesia during surgery.

Of the 140 million registered live births globally last year, 77 million were not breast-fed within the first hour of life.
“The early initiation of breast-feeding, putting babies to the breast within the first hour of life, safeguards infants from dying during the most vulnerable time in their lives,” Unicef noted.

According to the survey, the rate of exclusive breast-feeding declines between birth and five months with only 40 per cent of infants under six months globally being exclusively breast-fed.

“Low rates of breast-feeding are responsible for losses of more than $70 billion annually in low-and middle-income countries. If scaled up to nearly universal levels, breast-feeding could save more than 800,000 child lives and add more than $300 billion to the global economy each year,” Unicef noted.

Surveys also show that continued breast-feeding improves the cognitive ability of children translating into improved school performance, better long-term earnings and enhanced productivity. Aside from being safe from unhygienic environments and the danger of food contamination, no preparation is required for breast milk.

Exclusive breast-feeding is promoted regardless of the mothers’ social economic or HIV status. “A mother’s HIV status does not have to stop her from breast-feeding.

Mothers living with HIV can breastfeed their infants safely provided they adhere to antiretroviral therapy (ART) from the time of diagnosis throughout the breast-feeding period,” the Health ministry said.

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