After maternity leave, most Kenyan working mothers hide in their cars to express milk for their infants or go to a washroom if it looks clean enough or take cover behind seats in an empty boardroom. Then, they rely on the kindness of some bosses or kitchen staff to store the milk in mini-fridges.
Despite the new law for all institutions to have lactation rooms, most offices are not conductive to breastfeeding mothers. There are only 37 companies that have lactation rooms, according to Kenya Private Sector Alliance.
But of these companies, there are few woman singing the praises of their office lactation rooms. The truth is most are terrible, they are hived off from the main office or kitchen, a small uncomfortable chair is squeezed in for an employee who wants to pump.
But there are others that have set up rooms with a tired, anxious working mother in mind. The rooms are spacious with cozy chairs, sinks with running water, a TV, books and a large fridge.
In the hotel industry, for instance, lactation rooms are particularly important because mothers work in shifts which keep them away from their babies even at night.
Sarova-Panafric hotel with 90 women employees out of the 238 workforce set up a lactation room last month.
“We asked the ladies what they wanted in terms of design,” said David Gachuru, Sarova-Panafric’s general manager.
Now the hotel has a lactation room with a beige sofa, a curtain to section off the room for privacy, a bouquet of flowers and a telephone to make calls in case of an emergency. In the future, they say they plan to add a panic button for mothers to call for help if need be.
Mr Gachuru said besides staff, guests attending conferences in the hotel can use the room.
At Radisson Blu, a Zen-looking room whose walls are painted blue has a fridge, a sink, clean towels, a room where mothers can clean up, chairs and appropriately, a painting of a mother and a baby.
“For any other person, this might be a small thing but for a mother that is nursing whose breasts are full of milk, you can imagine how uncomfortable it is,” said Charity Muriuki, the human resource manager.
The hotel has 103 female employees out of the 290 staff members.
“It is a business decision. The more we invest in initiatives that support women at the workplace, the more we are able to improve our productivity and we are able to retain them,” said Ms Muriuki.
Other companies looking to retain women employees have introduced flexi hours where mothers can leave two hours early to go home.
Outside of hotels, companies such as Safaricom and StanChart have famously made the work environment better for young mothers.
Apart from a posh-looking lactation rooms which include well-lit private cubicles with a chair and a table where women can express their milk, StanChart last year also gave employees options such as working from home, choosing the hours by coming in earlier or later provided they fulfil their requirements, which do not affect your salary.
As a mother sometimes you may want to first take care of the child and then come to work or even leave during lunch time to go and check on the child, breastfeed and then come back to work.
Some organisations also offer sabbatical options to mothers who want to give their babies full attention for one year. Other mothers get maternity cash benefit after maternity leave and a reserved parking spot.
Lactation rooms increase morale and productivity among new mothers. No one wants to keep hiding behind a wall to express milk as quickly as possible before someone barges in!