Breastfeeding and the Workplace

We take at look at breastfeeding mothers who work full time, and therefore need to express milk while at work.

Every year World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from 1 to 7 August. This year we’re taking a look at breastfeeding mothers who work full time, and therefore need to express milk while at the office in order to keep up supply and provide milk for when they’re away from their child.

In South Africa, breastfeeding mothers are legally entitled to two 30-minute breaks per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk if their infants are younger than 6 months. This right is protected by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.  

Mothers who choose to express at work may be faced with a few dilemmas:

·         The issue of where to express, with many moms having to express in their cars, a bathroom or an office storeroom.

·         Hygiene can be an issue, as the pump must be rinsed after every use, so access to clean water is important.

·         Then the expressed milk needs to be stored safely and hygienically in a cool area.

Employers can assist new moms by providing the following where possible:

·         An exclusive ‘mother’s room’ with a seat, a sink, a power outlet and a lockable door.

·         The freedom to choose her two half hour sessions to fit into her expressing schedule and her work schedule.

·         A fridge for the expressed milk, or a safe space to store a cooler bag. The milk should be bagged and labelled clearly as ‘baby milk’ or ‘breast milk’ to avoid it ending up in someone’s coffee!

Additionally, employers must comply with the following:

·         Employers should inform employees about potential hazards to breast feeding employees. For example, some chemicals can be passed to the baby during breast feeding and could possibly impair the health and the development of the child. Consult the Hazardous Chemical Substances Regulations, 1995, issued under OHSA for more information.

·         Breastfeeding mothers cannot be discriminated against. If a breastfeeding mother feels that any legal rights are withheld, she is entitled to submit a written complaint to her employer, and to approach her union, a lawyer or even the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

The benefits of encouraging mothers to continue breastfeeding after they return to work outweigh any extra effort on the part of the employer. Breastfed babies are less likely to become ill, allowing mothers to focus on work, increasing productivity and decreasing absenteeism. In addition to ensuring a relaxed and happy employee who is able to provide the best for her baby while securing an income. 

- Elizabeth Mamacos