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As moms, we know breastfeeding is giving the healthiest start to our children; it’s the provision of the best nutrition and the sharing of our immune system, protecting our children from illness. Improving breastfeeding practices in the world has the potential to save 820, 000 lives every year, it could improve a child’s IQ level by 3 to 4 points and increase the worldwide income by US$302 billion annually. Breastfeeding benefits moms as well; it reduces the risk of getting breast cancer and diabetes as well as improving pregnancy spacing. The best breastfeeding practices for our children as recommended by the World Health Organization and UNICEF is to only give your child breastmilk for the first 6 months of his/her life, no other liquid or food is required. Then starting in the 6th month, introduce other safe and nutritious foods, while continuing to breastfeed for at least two years. However, for mothers needing to return to work, it is very difficult to achieve this alone and often results in a mother stopping breastfeeding.
So what do breastfeeding working mothers need? Firstly they need time. In South Africa a mother is legally entitled to four months maternity leave, however, this is usually unpaid leave. Formally employed mothers can apply for Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), but just know that this is not the full salary and may take time to process. Time should also be given by employers during the day, an additional hour on top of her usual breaks to either breastfeed or express milk or alternatively allow for flexi-time.
Secondly, a mother needs a place, a clean private place to either breastfeed her child or express her milk and then a place to store the milk. Employers could also consider providing a place onsite or close by for childcare.
What’s in it for employers? Providing the time and place for breastfeeding has shown to result in less absenteeism, improved work performance, dedication and retention of female staff.
Supporting breastfeeding moms is a win-win, let’s all do our part.