Before I became a mother, I had a limited understanding of breastfeeding women’s needs when they returned to work from maternity. Yes, conceptually I understood it; however, I did not grasp the significance. After I had my first child, I then understood. Although I never pumped breast milk at work, I could empathise entirely. In this post I will share an update on the law in South Africa with regards to breastfeeding at work and share two real life accounts from moms.
The Law in South Africa
In South Africa, the Basic Conditions of Employment (BCEA) provides two 30 minute breaks a day for moms who are breastfeeding. This is outlined in the Code of Good Practice on Pregnancy. The Code does not outline exactly what the space should look like. However, in general it should be accessible, lockable, clean, have a basin for hand washing and cleaning up, have plug points and have refrigeration facilities.
Why is a breast pumping facility at work needed?
Very often, mothers return to work while they are still breastfeeding . To maintain supply, moms need to pump at work and therefore need a space that is private, secure and hygienic.
In South Africa, it is estimated that only 36% of babies are breastfed exclusively up until 14 weeks, and this figure drops to 8% at 6 months. Also, returning back to work is one of the reasons why women stop breastfeeding before their baby is at least 6 months old. Certain conditions as shared in this article Women Share Their Stories of Pumping at Work and It Is Not Pretty may also discourage moms from wanting to continue. The law that we have in South Africa is very encouraging.
What are the challenges facing women who want to continue breastfeeding after returning to work?
It is not common knowledge that the BCEA provides this protection for women. And even if it is known, there is a reluctance to raise this as it is an ‘uncomfortable topic’.
Companies are also often not able to set aside funding to create the space. Although my belief is that even with no funds, some sort of accommodation should be possible in most cases.
Herewith two moms’ real stories about breast pumping at work
Names have been changed.
Lara, Mom of 2
“We have no breast pumping facilities at work. When I had to breast pump at work, I had to use a little kitchenette. One of my colleagues came along with me, and she stood at the door keeping it closed while I pumped. This is the kitchenette being used by the whole team on the floor. Anyone could walk in at any time.”
Angela, Mom of 1
1. How long were you able to breastfeed your baby for?
My little guys is almost 8 months old, and I am exclusively breastfeeding him, he has never had any formula.
2. Does your company have a breast pumping facility? And do you use it?
Yes my head office does have a designated mothers room to express. However, I am a consultant so I work at client sites and at both of my clients. I have had to get special permission to use the First Aid rooms because they do not have mothers rooms facilities.
3. What impact does it make having access to a breast pumping facility vs not (on your experience)?
It increases productivity because you don’t have to waste time with the logistics of getting access to the room and navigating through the whole experience. E.g. washing hands, rinsing equipment as well as storing the milk after. It also more hygienic because companies tend to take more care in keeping mothers rooms clean versus having mangy dusty rooms. Having a mother’s room also impacts one psychologically; moms tend to feel more valued and cared for as an employee if your company has taken the time to and money to invest in a well-equipped mothers room facility.
4. Does having a breast pumping facility at work contribute to you extending the time you can breast feed your baby?
No. I have always looked forward to nurse my baby, it’s such an intimate bonding experience that I believe God made our bodies as moms for so I would never stop for any other reason than my son not wanting to nurse any more when he is a toddler. When I started to plan to go back to work I had already made my mind up that it was non-negotiable that my son is exclusively breastfed and that would mean that I must express at work even if it meant having to sit in my car and hand express.
5. What impact did/does work place culture (if any) have on you being able to breast pump at work?
Breastfeeding is becoming less and less common, so it’s a surprise to many when they find out that I still express. Men seem to be very startled by it and get uncomfortable. Those that have had wives that didn’t breastfeed don’t get it all why you would do it. I think the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind when they find out about me expressing is, “are you productive or how do you get work done”. Or that is what I read from them. Maybe that is me just being self-conscious about it. I think that we need to normalise expressing at work so that breastfeeding moms are discriminated or victimised in the workplace.
In closing, I firmly believe that providing mothers with a space to pump breast milk at work, is a key element of inclusion. If a mom has decided to breast feed after returning to work, we must let common sense prevail. Due consideration should be given to a breastfeeding mom, even if there is no breast milk pumping facility. Some form of arrangement must be made. For those of us who see our colleagues and friends who are going through this, let’s also support them. Finally, as a mom, know your rights, MyWage has created a very informative FAQ on Breastfeeding at Work containing additional information.
Do you have any experiences of pumping breast milk at work? Let me know in the comments.
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