Breastfeeding in public has for a long time divided opinion with some of the view that at no cost should a woman’s breasts be displayed in public.
When Winnie Wangui Kamau took some time to breastfeed her baby at the halftime break during a football match, she didn’t know that she would inspire positive debates about breastfeeding at the workplace and motivate many nursing women fraught with fear of being discriminated against.
Wangui’s photo served more than just motivation and sensitization of the public on the natural process of breastfeeding, it also portrayed the struggles that surround it.
A marketer at a Safaricom dealer shop at Njabini trading centre in Nyandarua country, Wangui had left her one-and-a-half-year-old baby under the care of her non-playing teammates when she stepped into the field.
She was playing as a striker for the Karangatha Women’s football team during a football tournament organized by Nyandarua Woman Rep Hon. Faith Gitau at Karangatha stadium to mark the International Women’s Day.
“That particular day, my grandmother was to leave for some business so as to earn a living. We had agreed that I would go with the baby since I could not afford to miss the match. This is our usual agreement even when I go to train after work. I had left work at 10am and went to the stadium after picking the baby from home,” Wangui told The Standard.
She added that while this was not the first time that she was leaving her baby with her colleagues, on this particular day the baby had been irritable and could not stop crying. She had to make the hard choice of stepping onto the pitch with nothing but hope that her baby would calm down.
At halftime, she rushed to feed the baby only for her photo breastfeeding to later go viral on social media.
“I went to breastfeed the baby during half time. I was, however, shocked to receive calls from all over the country from people congratulating me for some nobble course,” she said.
Wangui’s case highlights the state of the breastfeeding at work debate. In sports, regulatory bodies have come up with new terms and rules to protect women players.
FIFA, in 2020, introduced new rules that included mandatory maternity leave of at least 14 weeks while maintaining that no female player would suffer any disadvantage due to pregnancy.
Under the new guidelines, FIFA upheld that players will be given the opportunity to breastfeed and express milk and sports clubs will also be allowed to register a female player outside the registration period to temporarily replace a squad member on maternity leave.
Other than in sports, companies are also compelled to provide conducive work environment for their nursing employees.
To provide a conducive and better work environment for its employees, the Standard Group launched two mothers’ rooms at its Mombasa Road Headquarters and its City Centre offices.
Apart from Standard Group, several other companies have set up mothers’ rooms at their premises including Safaricom which, apart from lactation rooms, also has a 7 to 5pm crèche/daycare facility with professional caregivers at its Nairobi HQ offices.
Breastfeeding Mothers Act, 2019
In the Breastfeeding Mothers Act 2019, persons who own, lease or rent building that hold at least 50 people must provide a lactation room.
The Act also describes the condition of the room as “shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers; be clean, quiet and warm private facility with a baby changing table and a waste bucket.”
Apart from affirming that a woman can breastfeed in public and the act shall not be construed to amount to an indecent act, the Act also specifies that a person accompanied by a baby in public may use any baby changing facility within reasonable distance for the purposes of cleaning and changing the baby.
To facilitate breastfeeding, the Act also proposes that employers give nursing mothers regular breaks lasting no more than 40 minutes every four hours during working shifts.