Organizations urged to put up structures to support breastfeeding
Breastfeeding for working women in Kenya has for a long time been a struggle. Mothers have faced challenges to breastfeed exclusively for six months as required by the guidelines provided by World Health Organization (WHO).
The Ministry of Health in Kenya has adopted these guidelines as well as passed additional policy to further safeguard the rights of women which guarantees them 14 weeks paid maternity leave as well as 14 days paternity leave in both public and private sectors.
However, many organizations lack facilities where mothers can express milk for their babies upon resuming work as well as storage facilities such as refrigerators. This has forced mothers to use toilets which are unhygienic and uncomfortable to use.
This emerged during the 2015 celebration of the Breastfeeding Week when Kenya joined the world in marking the occasion.
This year’s theme; “Breastfeeding and Work, Let’s Make It Work” calls for concerted global action to combine breastfeeding and work in the workplace. This year’s celebration was marked to support working mothers in this important step as well cultivate a comprehensive breastfeeding culture at work.
Dr Jackson Kioko, Head of Preventive and Promotive Services while representing Cabinet Secretary for Health, James Macharia on employers to put up breast-friendly workplaces. He said this at a function held at the Safaricom Michael Joseph Centre.
“Breastfeeding is vital for the growth and health of our babies and is thereby the very foundation of a healthy and productive Kenya and key to achieving our Vision 2030,” said Macharia.
Terming it as a fundamental child right, Macharia emphasized that working for a mother should not mean that her child is deprived. He also called on family and community members to support mothers among them to achieve this.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children feed exclusively on breast milk for the first six months of their lives, so whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered to claim her and the baby’s right to breastfeed,” Macharia explained.
Despite the rise in numbers of children under six months breastfeeding exclusively, a large number of women working in both the informal and formal sectors have difficulties achieving this. According to the latest Kenya Demographic Health Survey, the rise was from 13 per cent in 2003 to 61 per cent in 2014 which subsequently reduced child mortality rates from 74 per cent to 52 per cent.
The importance of breastfeeding exclusively cannot be overstated. Research has demonstrated that it provides infants with immunity which protects them from ailments such as pneumonia, cholera, diarrhoea, ear infections and jaundice among other illnesses.
Mothers also benefit when their children breastfeed. Women who have breastfed experience reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer later in life. Some studies have found that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing type two diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular diseases including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Several organizations who are members of Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) have already set up breastfeeding rooms for lactating mothers. Safaricom, a telecommunications company is an example.
“When we wanted to show how to care for mothers, we had a best practice; Safaricom,” says Gloria Ndekei of KEPSA. She adds: “Other organizations should emulate Safaricom in supporting mothers to breastfeed and work.”
Bob Collymore, Chief Executive Officer Safaricom concurred adding that breastfeeding was key to building a healthy nation and, therefore, companies should strive to create breastfeeding friendly workplaces.
“In the 21st Century, women should never have to breastfeed in toilets. We should create friendly facilities to breastfeeding women and Safaricom is happy to lead the way and champion for women rights”.
Collymore stressed the need for organizations to improve their work environments in order to align with current best work cultures which support motherhood at work place bearing in mind that more young mothers are part of Kenya’s youthful workforce.
“Mothers should never have to choose between having a successful career or motherhood, because I believe both can go hand in hand, let’s make it work”, He emphasized.
Other organizations that have also been recognized for the same are FHI 360, Kenya Women Finance Trust, National Bank of Kenya, International Medical Corps, Kenya Red Cross, Karen Roses Flower Farm, Nestle, World Vision, ICRAF and Red Land Rose.
The breastfeeding week is marked annually worldwide and runs on from August 1 to 7. This year it was marked by raising awareness on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and also launching guidelines to ensure a breastfeeding friendly environment both at work and home.