Employers & Breastfeeding

By Carey Haupt RD(SA) SACLC
Created: 24 October, 2019

Breastfeeding at work is a real issue

As a small business owner, I realise it we need our staff to be as productive as possible. So, when they are at work they work and not scroll through Facebook or Instagram. In South Africa, 43% of the workforce are women of child-bearing age. This means that many working, South African women are torn between being a primary caregiver to their child and providing financial support for their families. I am one of them. My children are now in primary school and there is such a pull to spend more time with them, help with homework and school project and encourage them with their sport. I want to be a part of their lives but I also have a company that I need to look after. I remember when they were still babies and I had to go back to work. I think that my heart broke just thinking about leaving them and then on the first day. Yes, I did cry all the way to work and may have broken the ground speed record going home. I was lucky that I work for a company that had a breastfeeding policy and there was not too much fuss around me taking my breastfeeding breaks. There was however a bit of a clash with the idea of me keeping my expressed well labeled, well-sealed breast milk in the fridge. I don’t like to go back to the meeting as it was a real eye-opener on how unsupportive some work collogues can be. In the end. we compromised I stored my milk in the freezer section of the fridge (no-one used it). At least my milk was kept cold.

The more mother that I talk to the more I realize how lucky I was, I had my own office so I did not have to pump in the car or even consider that terrible place where other mothers are expected to pump. Yes, it is true some mothers are offered the toilet as if it was a grand offer of support. OMG that is gross. I am sure I don’t have to go into the details as to why that is not acceptable.

In South Africa we don’t all get paid maternity leave or any real maternity leave. Some mothers are required to return to work as early as 6 weeks which can have a devastating effect on the mother’s breast milk supply. At 6 weeks the mom’s body is just getting the hang of feeding. Her supply is starting to stabilize and now the mom has the added stress of being separated from her baby. Remember as a society we encourage mothers to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months.

Breastfeeding benefits employers

So why should employers worry about a mother and her breastfeeding? Won’t it take time out of her workday? Well to be honest NO. By enabling mothers to continue to provide their babies with breast milk once they have returned to work creates a working environment that mothers want to be a part of.

Did you know that having an expressing room and encouraging your breastfeeding mothers to express for 30 minutes, twice a day, can improve their productivity? It may sound counter-intuitive, but this is how breast milk helps to increase staff productivity:

1. Healthier for baby

When a baby is healthy, mom can focus on work. A healthy baby is what we all want. Breast milk has many benefits for baby and mom. One of the best-known benefits is improved health for the baby. Breast milk provides the baby with added immunity from the mother’s immune system and it is much more easily absorbed than formula.

2. Reduction of medical costs

Babies that are fed breast milk have reduced risk of diarrhea, respiratory tract infection, ear infections, constipation, asthma, and allergy (to name the most common). This will reduce the need for a mother to take time off work to visit a doctor or hospital if needed. When a baby is sick, and the mother returns to work she will be worried about her baby and less productive.

3. Less absenteeism

With less need to take the baby to the doctor or clinic, the mother will be able to spend more time at work. There will be less need for staying at home to care for her sick infant and less need for family responsibility leave.

4. Better staff retention

If a mother knows that her company is willing to invest in her and her family’s well-being by providing a safe, hygienic and comfortable space where she has the time needed to express her breast milk for her infant, she will be more willing to invest back into the company.

5. Staff satisfaction & loyalty

If a company can show that they care and put the needs of women who are looking after their children as a priority, staff start to see their value and start to promote your companies’ brand. Mothers will not want to leave a company that has supported them and their families.

Companies can care

A company that can show that they care about their employees, and a company that is supportive of their employee’s family responsibilities, are more likely to create staff members who are happy, valued and proud to be ambassadors of the company’s brand. A supported employee, such as a new mother, will not want to leave a supportive and enabling work environment.

HR and breastfeeding

If you would like to revamp your HR policy to enable mothers to continue to provide breast milk once they return to work, contact us for assistance. My Breastpump can work with your company to write up an HR policy in line with the South African Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy and after the Birth of a Child which forms part of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (NO. 75 of 1997). We can tailor a program which includes setting up an Expression room (within budget and space allowances), run workshops on infant feeding and breastfeeding in the work environment, as part of a more holistic wellness program.