Missing lactation rooms at workplace key challenge for new moms: Experts
New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) Lack of lactation rooms at the workplace present a key challenge for new mothers who resume work from office post their maternity, said experts on Monday as part of the breastfeeding week, calling for better provisions for women.
World Breastfeeding Week is observed globally from August 1 to 7 every year to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding and to empower and support mothers who breastfeed.
The theme this year is: ‘Let’s make breastfeeding and work, work!’
“Most often, workplaces lack a designated area or nursing room where women can express milk in privacy. This is a big deterrent for women to rejoin work after their maternity leave. For new mothers who must choose between caring for their infant while nursing and concentrating on their professional development at work, a lack of flexibility, the inability to work from home, and long work hours can add to the troubles,” Dr Deepa Mohan, Paediatrician, and Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, told IANS.
Mohan said: “Lack of facilities to continue breastfeeding, long intervals of not feeding/ pumping milk result in low milk output.”
In addition, “difficulties in expressing milk at workplaces timely, mothers also suffer with engorged breasts which can be painful for the mother.
As a result, “unacceptably, only few women continue to breastfeed their babies after returning to work and many women cease breastfeeding quickly after returning to work,” she said.
Another issue that women face is the storage of milk at workplaces.
“Most of the companies or workplaces don’t provide refrigerators for storage of expressed or pumped milk, making breast feeding a challenge to the mothers. Absence of lactation rooms and less number of feeding breaks results in inadequate sucking of the baby which slowly reduces the milk production due to decreased stimulation of the brain reflex,” Dr Babita Maturi, Gynaecologist at Apollo Clinic, told IANS.
In such cases, milk can be placed temporarily in an insulated cooler with ice packs or ice box, Mohan said. However, it is easier said than done.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, infants have to be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.
However, “the challenging combination of breastfeeding and work is one of the foremost reasons for early breastfeeding cessation,” Dr Saravanan R, Consultant – Neonatology and Pediatrics, Rainbow Children’s Hospital, told IANS.
“Though numerous factors play a role in creating a breastfeeding-friendly work environment, paid breastfeeding breaks and the availability of a lactation room (private space designated for milk expression or breastfeeding) are important basic requirements,” Dr Saravanan said.
But the reality is that the provision of a lactation room is included in the legislation of only 31 per cent of countries, as per International Breastfeeding Journal.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 43 per cent of highly-qualified women with children are leaving careers or taking a career break. However, 75 per cent of them would be back if they can have flexible work.
“Breastfeeding is a right for both mother and child, yet working moms may find it difficult to balance breastfeeding with their professional obligations. This year’s focus is to raise awareness of the maternity benefits among Indian working parents,” Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) said in a tweet.
Mohan said: “Offices can be more accommodating by incorporating breastfeeding-friendly policies, creating space for lactation rooms, offering hybrid options, reducing working hours for a couple of months post maternity leave, providing lactation breaks during work hours, or even allowing employees to go home and feed the baby if their homes are close to their places of employment.”
“These modest initiatives can help employers retain talent on board, cut down on new mothers’ absences, and a solution for those who are having trouble finding a balance. By empowering women to continue breastfeeding while working many women will not quit their jobs post maternity leave.”
(Rachel V. Thomas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)