Enabling Breastfeeding: Making a difference for working parents

More about the conversation around breastfeeding. E-POSTER/Conversations With Esther.
  • As the world commemorates World Breastfeeding Week, the resounding call to action becomes even more urgent.
  • Lactation spaces play a crucial role in fostering a baby-friendly breastfeeding workplace, ensuring successful breastfeeding initiation, and timely introduction of nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods.
  • By advocating for breastfeeding-friendly workplaces, HR professionals can lead the charge in promoting gender equity, nurturing diversity, and creating environments where women can flourish personally and professionally.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over half a billion working women worldwide are deprived of essential maternity protection in their national laws.

Shockingly, only 20% of countries mandate employees to provide breaks and facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk, leaving a vast majority without the support they need.

As the world commemorates World Breastfeeding Week, the resounding call to action becomes even more urgent. These statistics underscore the pressing need for workplace-related breastfeeding support.

For working mothers, balancing career aspirations with wanting to give their infants the best start is a constant struggle.

With fewer than half of infants under six months of age being exclusively breastfed, we must collectively strive to create an inclusive environment that enables and empowers women to embrace both their motherhood and professional roles.

The goal is to promote actionable steps to ensure breastfeeding works for all women, wherever they may work.

In this endeavor, a fireside chat conducted by Conversions With Esther, courtesy of Esther Katiba, an author, motivational speaker, astute organizational culture consultant, Legal professional, and certified HR Practitioner, brought together remarkable panelists with diverse expertise.

This special event focused on women and shared insights and expertise on this year’s theme, “Enabling Breastfeeding: Making a difference for working parents.”

Esther Katiba, an author, motivational speaker, and astute organizational culture consultant. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Kenya’s progressive policies

Among the panelists was Racheal Wanjugu, an eminent maternal and neonatal child expert with over 15 years of experience representing the Ministry of Health, who took the stage to shed light on the ministry’s crucial role in promoting breastfeeding rights in Kenya’s workplace.

With expertise, she delved into Kenya’s Health Act and compliance measures that aim to create a supportive environment for working mothers and their breastfeeding journey.

“Article 53(1) (c) of our constitution gives every child the right to basic nutrition, shelter, and healthcare,” Ms. Wanjugu said, emphasizing the constitutional foundation of breastfeeding rights in Kenya.

She further pointed out, “Article 43(1) (c) focuses on economic and social rights, ensuring freedom from hunger and access to adequate food of acceptable quality.”

Racheal Wanjugu, Chair Workplace Support Taskforce – Ministry of Health. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Speaking about the Breast Milk Substitutes Act, Ms. Wanjugu highlighted its significance, saying, “The act, which was assented to on October 11, 2012, and commenced on December 17, 2012, provides guidelines for the appropriate marketing and distribution of breast milk substitutes, ensuring safe and adequate nutrition for infants when necessary.”

She stressed the regulations’ role in preventing infant and young child illnesses and deaths by promoting optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding while regulating the use of breast milk substitutes.

Ms. Wanjugu’s empathetically acknowledged the challenges working mothers face in their breastfeeding journey, revealing, “Most of our mothers find it challenging, considering they’re going back to work, to continue breastfeeding for six months and two years and beyond.”

She brought attention to the Kenya Employment Act of 2007 to address this. Section 29 grants female employees three months of maternity leave with full pay.

She also highlighted the importance of “Flexi hours, which is 60 minutes within the 8 hours that they are working,” allowing mothers to take short breaks to express breast milk during their workday.

Underscoring the significance of supportive workplace environments, Wanjugu’s highlighted the Health Act, 2017, Section 71(1), stating, “All employers shall in the workplace establish lactation stations which shall be adequately provided with necessary equipment and facilities.”

These lactation spaces play a crucial role in fostering a baby-friendly breastfeeding workplace, ensuring successful breastfeeding initiation, and timely introduction of nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods.

She further emphasized the need for comprehensive support for working mothers, including implementing a breastfeeding policy and providing social support structures.

She emphasized the regular reassessment of lactation spaces to ensure their effectiveness in empowering working mothers.

Making breastfeeding and work, work

As the chat continued, Jane Mutisya, a Certified Professional Coach, took the spotlight to share the challenges faced by women in the workplace concerning breastfeeding and the pivotal role Human Resources (HR) plays in ensuring compliance, with compelling statistics and powerful testimonies.

Ms. Mutisya addressed the pressing need for an inclusive and accommodating environment for working mothers. Sharing poignant insights, Mutisya began highlighting the struggles faced by women returning to work after childbirth.

“One lady said she would express, which poised a challenge since the more you express, the more milk is produced,” she revealed.

Jane Mutisya, a Certified Professional Coach. PHOTO/Courtesy.

In a survey of 46 women, nearly half contemplated quitting their jobs to prioritize breastfeeding, illustrating the issue’s magnitude.

Drawing attention to the urgency for change, Ms. Mutisya stressed the importance of companies providing essential support for working mothers.

She emphasized the significance of accommodating fridges for storing breast milk, flexible working hours, extended maternity leaves, and the option to work fewer hours.

Ms. Mutisya presented a respondent’s poignant story, “I had a lot of milk, and by 10 am, my chest was suffocating me. Too full! I took a career break.”

These words echoed many women’s struggles balancing motherhood with their professional aspirations.

In her passionate call for diversity and equity, Ms. Mutisya urged HR departments to create an inclusive and conducive environment for breastfeeding mothers actively.

“For anybody talking about diversity, being accommodative and promoting equity are paramount,” she insisted, underlining the moral imperative to support women in their journey through motherhood.

Ms. Mutisya’s powerful address was a poignant reminder of the significant strides needed to empower working mothers.

By advocating for breastfeeding-friendly workplaces, HR professionals can lead the charge in promoting gender equity, nurturing diversity, and creating environments where women can flourish personally and professionally.

Driving organizational growth

Clementina Ngina, a Nutrition Consultant, expounded on the myriad benefits of workplace support for women, masterfully highlighting how such initiatives bring a wealth of advantages to employers and employees alike.

In her discourse, Ms. Ngina revealed the invaluable advantages employers can gain from supporting breastfeeding women.

“Improved retention of skills and experience, reduced recruitment costs, employee loyalty, increased productivity, and a boost in employer image are just a few of the remarkable benefits,” she asserted.

Clementina Ngina, a Nutrition Consultant. PHOTO/Courtesy.

As an added incentive, such support also leads to lowered employer health and insurance costs and reduced absenteeism, bolstering the overall stability and prosperity of the organization.

Equally crucial are the benefits that employees reap from this support, as Ms. Ngina eloquently shared. “Improved job security and the absence of threats, knowing their employer supports breastfeeding issues, contribute to a more stable and confident workforce,” she declared.

Moreover, she revealed how employees enjoy enhanced health for themselves and their children, better stress management, and reduced risks of diabetes, and breast and ovarian cancer, illustrating the profound impact that workplace support can have on personal well-being.

To truly unleash the potential of breastfeeding support in the workplace, Ms. Ngina emphasized the need for a holistic approach.

She emphasized, “Capacity development is paramount, encompassing policies, infrastructure, best practices, and continuous internal assessments for lactation spaces.”

Only by adopting these comprehensive strategies can organizations create a nurturing environment that truly champions the needs of breastfeeding women.

In a compelling call to action, Ms. Ngina addressed managers, urging them to take the lead in creating a transformative workplace culture.

“Incorporate information about basic needs, establish policies that recognize and address these needs, disseminate vital information, sensitize employees on the importance of breastfeeding support, and coordinate management,” she passionately asserted.

Above all, she urged everyone to become champions for change, recognizing that fostering a supportive environment is a collective responsibility that paves the way for a more equitable and thriving workplace.

Employees unlock their full potential by championing workplace support for women, nurturing a healthier and happier workforce, and empowering women to thrive as dedicated professionals and loving mothers.

Conversations With Esther, apart from this, is also planning for more events and impactful conversations are lined up for you.

“We are calling for partners to join hands and support this noble course. Insurance companies, hospitals, emergency response services, professional psychologists, personal care-focused brands, event planning organizations, beverage companies, FMCGs, recruitment companies, financial institutions, water companies, self-care organizations and many others are all welcome,” she says.

This upcoming event will focus on coping with loss and grief.

Loss and grief could be from loss of jobs and income, loved ones, relationships, the pain and weight of caregivers, terminal illness, childhood traumas, and much more.

“We invite children, young, old and all. Let’s normalize conversations around wellness and self-care,” she says.

Are you excited to be part of this initiative and join her in impacting souls? Feel free to reach out to her via her socials or email her at admin@conversationswithesther.org for more information.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Katiba’s passionate journey in empowering schools, women and security officers

Remember to also watch past episodes of the insightful fireside conversations and the upcoming ones on her YouTube channel.

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Ms. Karangah is a content creator, with a passion for stories around health, lifestyle, poetry, and education, among others. She believes that stories have a profound way of connecting us to each other and they help us understand the people around us, to build empathy and create change. Her contact: shirukarangah@gmail.com


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