Provision of breastfeeding spaces vital for productivity, UCT study finds

Mom's who express at work can provide breast milk to their babies for longer, as caregivers are able to bottle feed this expressed milk.
Mom's who express at work can provide breast milk to their babies for longer, as caregivers are able to bottle feed this expressed milk.

I returned to work 4 months after the birth of my second child. Thanks to plenty of preparation, and lots of postpartum support, I was successfully and exclusively breastfeeding and didn't want to stop just because I couldn't feed my baby for 9 hours a day.

Not being able to feed or express for that long each day will lead to a drop in supply, and an inevitable early end to any mother's breastfeeding journey.  

Without access to a safe, private space to express, and permission from my employer, I would not have been able to continue my breastfeeding journey as long as I did. I consider myself lucky, as many South African working moms do not have such provision.

Our law provides for mothers to have time and a clean space to express breast milk at work, but many companies still dodge their responsibilities, so I was very happy to learn about the latest research out of the University of Cape Town. 

Research-based motivation 

Now, further motivating companies to support breastfeeding moms, a UCT study has shown that mothers who are able to express at work were more committed to their company and had increased productivity.

It's no surprise, working moms need all the support they can get, and will remain loyal and committed to a company that supports them in the early years of building a family. 

Associate Professor Ameeta Jaga, an organisational psychologist in the commerce faculty’s School of Management Studies, says the provision for breastfeeding mothers is vital for creating an inclusive, productive workplace.

Read: Expressing breast milk at work: top tips

While the country’s employed female labour force hovers around 45%, there is still not enough support for new mothers returning to work – and little grasp of the compelling business and economic benefits of breastfeeding for society.

“Employers must rethink how they can support breastfeeding at work, and in turn contribute to a more productive workforce and an equitable society. There is this stigma about breastfeeding because the idea of breasts is still sexualised," she said. 

Small shifts in awareness

Sweeping change isn't necessarily required though, and small shifts in awareness make a difference. "One doesn’t have to implement high-cost, structural changes," Professor Jaga explains.

"Most research shows that formal policies or structures won’t work anyway, if you don’t have the shift in culture or mindset of supervisors and management.”

All that is needed for companies to comply, and provide the necessary support, is a comfortable private space, fridge facilities for storing expressed breast milk, and somewhere to wash a breast pump.

Mother's are legally able to take two 30 minute breaks per day to express. This time does not count as a lunch or tea break, and is protected by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.  

On a positive note, the percentage of the country’s babies that are exclusively breastfed has increased overall from 8% in 2012 (the lowest in the world) to 32% in recent years, which shows that increasing positive awareness can make a real difference.

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