The breastfeeding dilemma faced by working mums

NAIROBI: As the world marks World Breastfeeding Week from August 1st to 8th, the majority of working lactating mothers have nothing to smile about.

While it is recommended that a mother exclusively feeds her child on breast milk for the first six months, for the working mum, expressing milk at the work place is often very difficult.

The switch from three months of maternity leave to full-time work is quite traumatising for most mothers, so the added challenge of expressing milk for their child makes some opt to stop breastfeeding their children before the six months are done.

Josephine Wangui,* (not her real name) who has just resumed work, after delivering her baby, four months ago, cannot wait for the six months to come to an end.

“The ladies toilets have become my pumping room whenever I want to express milk. I know it is very unhygienic but there are no other options for me. It is either I express my milk in the toilet or my daughter will have nothing to drink the following day. It is very demeaning but I cannot risk going home to do it,” she explains.

Wangui is not alone in this predicament. Most working, nursing mothers find transitioning from maternity leave to the office a challenge, especially with breastfeeding and nannies.

“Every time I get that tingle on my breasts, I know it is time to go pump and if I do not, the milk will be flowing all over my clothes,” she says.

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) calls for concerted effort to make it possible for women to combine breastfeeding and work.

“Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed by establishing mother-friendly workplace initiatives,” states the message from the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (Waba).

Waba is a global network of individuals and organisations concerned with the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide.

Much has been achieved in the last 22 years since the WBW campaign on the mother-friendly workplace was launched, with many local corporates now setting up crèches, nursing rooms and even expressing rooms for working mothers.

East African Breweries Limited (EABL) last week launched a lactation room for employees who have just come from maternity leave with the aim of making the transition as relaxing as possible.

Speaking during the launch ceremony, that was witnessed by all EABL women employees, Group Human Resource Director Paul Kasimu said it is a commitment from the leadership to ensure women are supported in combining work and taking care of their children.

“We value all our employees and opening this lactating room is a step towards ensuring women are offered an enabling environment that will help them balance motherhood and their career,” Mr Kasimu said.

According to Michelle Wandera, mother to an eight-month-old baby girl, she had to rush home during lunch breaks to pump milk and also breastfeed her baby.

“I had to rush home every day at 1pm since we did not have a room where I could express my milk hygienically. I know colleagues who used their cars as the expressing room, hanging lessos over their windows for privacy.

Having this room is a blessing for young mothers like us and it will reduce the distractions we encounter as we balance motherhood and office work,” she said.

Construction of the lactation room was championed by the Group Legal Director, Wambui Kosgey, who said she opted to do so after being directed to the company clinic to nurse her child.

“I was shocked. My baby was not sick. All I wanted was a room to breastfeed my baby,” she recalls.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia and helps to promote quicker recovery during illness.