Breastfeeding in the workplace, in practice, can mean several things.
For some employees who live close to their workplace, breastfeeding may mean going home or going to a nearby nursery to feed their child. Alternatively it may mean a relative or child minder bringing the child to the workplace to be fed. In most cases it is likely to mean the employee will express milk which she will then store in a cool place. The expressed milk will then be used to feed the baby from a bottle. Expressing milk usually requires the use of either an electric or manual pump. The pump and bottles must be sterile in order to avoid contaminating the milk so it’s vital that the woman has access to clean, hygienic facilities to express milk.
Breastfeeding can be a sensitive and difficult issue for employees to discuss with their employer, but it is an important one to help their transition back to work after maternity leave. It is good practice for employers to discuss with employees who are still breastfeeding what could reasonably and proportionately be done to facilitate their return to the workplace. An employer may consider nominating a female employee to conduct these discussions if there is a question of sensitivity or appropriateness.
Enabling employees to continue breastfeeding at work can encourage staff loyalty and the organization can benefit from the skills of the employee returning sooner than might otherwise be the case. However employers should be careful not to inadvertently pressurize employees to return to work before they are ready. Breastfeeding can help maintain the wellbeing of the returning employee by avoiding health problems such as mastitis and other related issues.
The WHO recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, followed by breastfeeding and appropriate complementary foods for two years or more. These recommendations are based on research that demonstrates health benefits from breastfeeding that range from reduced infections and improved IQ in babies to lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers.
However with working mothers only having 3months of maternity it seems as though 6months exclusive breastfeeding is impossible for them. Although a lot of women really want to keep breastfeeding when they go back to work, they don’t even realize that it could be a possibility or that asking their employer to support them isn’t an unreasonable demand.
Making this demand to your employer may seem an impossible feat especially here in Nigeria, even more so when you’re working in the private sector. Private sector companies are obviously out to make a profit and although the Nigerian Labour Act of 1990 in Section 54 subsection D requires an employer to provide time out during an employee’s work day if she is breastfeeding but that is easier said than done for these corporations.
But when looked at objectively, there are benefits to having an onsite day care facility for employees, most especially workings moms who are breastfeeding and wish to exclusively breastfeed for 6months which include:
- Greater employee loyalty to companies as a result of gratitude and satisfaction;
- Reduced absenteeism because breastfeeding employees’ babies get sick less often and less severely;
- Retention of employees, reducing the need for training and the loss of qualified personnel; and
- Improved productivity.
To support breastfeeding, PAHO/WHO recommends that employers implement policies including paid maternity leave, paid breaks for breastfeeding, a dedicated room for breastfeeding in the workplace that is private and hygienic, and flexible or reduced working hours for breastfeeding mothers and these recommendations should extend to private sector organizations.
Mothers can also take the following steps and speak with HR or managers by taking the following steps towards breastfeeding at work:
Ask while you’re pregnant, not when you return from maternity leave giving your employer time to figure out the best way to accommodate you. That works out for both parties; your boss won’t be pressed for time, and you’ll have what you need when you return to work.
Write an e-mail before discussing it in person. Cathy Carothers, president of the International Lactation Consultant Association, who helps businesses create breastfeeding-friendly environments, says employers often appreciate a written request from an employee before talking about her needs during a face-to-face meeting. That prevents catching the boss off-guard, which is particularly helpful when the boss or employee might be uncomfortable with the topic.
Ask nicely rather than demanding your rights. “Employers don’t like people threatening them with the law,” Carothers says. “So I’d encouraged the mother not to say, ‘It’s the law, you have to do this for me.'” Instead, try something like, “I’d like to talk to you about some ways to work together to make this work,” she says. “That approach gets women much farther.”
Consider the greater good. You’re not the only woman who needs to pump at work, so remember that making the request might help others, too. “Each time that somebody asks, we’re opening the door for even more moms and more children to be able to do the same thing,” says Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising.
Explain how your ability to breastfeed could benefit the business. Show your boss what the company gains from making it feasible for you to pump during the day. Supporters of the nursing-at-work law say it decreases the company’s healthcare costs and cuts down on mothers’ sick days because breastfed babies tend to be healthier than bottle-fed infants. It can also improve employee loyalty and decrease turnover because workers appreciate being able to balance their work responsibilities with family life.
Show that you’re flexible. If your employer is concerned about decreased productivity, offer to come in early or stay late to make up the time, Carothers says. Make it clear that this will help you continue to be a great employee.