Breastfeeding and the Workplace

In 2011, South Africa committed to promoting exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for six months for all mothers, regardless of HIV status, in line with WHO recommendations. This was a marked shift from earlier policies, and with it, average EBF rates increased from less than 10% in 2011 to 32% by 2016, albeit this is still one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

Speaking at Medela’s 14th International Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium in London in April 2019, the UK-based health economist Dr Subhash Pokhrel, head of the Clinical Sciences Department at Brunel University London, made a business case for the promotion of breastfeeding. He noted that “if more women chose to breastfeed their babies, there would be fewer diseases among infants and the healthcare system would therefore spend less money in treating those diseases. That money could be freed up to be spent elsewhere.” He challenged governments and medical professional in the lactation space to consider why modern-day society would de-incentivise women from breastfeeding for a longer period of time.
In a previous blog, we outlined 11 reasons why you should breastfeed your baby. However, a contentious issue that plays a part in hindering EBF is the support of breastfeeding in the workplace. Unlike government workers, women working in the private sector are not guaranteed full pay from their employers during maternity leave. Mothers often see returning to work as incompatible with EBF because reducing the frequency of breastfeeding tends to lower the supply of breast milk. 

First and foremost, under South African law, breastfeeding mothers are protected under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act which also regulates maternity leave. 

Under this act, a “Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy and after the Birth of a Child” (COGP) not only addresses hazardous working conditions, it also spells out breastfeeding or expressing break requirements. Under this code clause 5.13 states: “Arrangements should be made for employees who are breast-feeding to have breaks of 30 minutes twice per day for breast-feeding or expressing milk each working day for the first six months of the child’s life.” It should be noted that this does not only apply to lunch or tea breaks. 

Where the code is not clear on is the provision of a site for employees to express or a fridge for storage of expressed milk. Employees typically have to find private spaces within the company that they can use uninterrupted including empty offices or storage rooms or similar and using cooler bags and ice packs to keep the expressed milk cool. 

In summary you have rights as an employee.  Be well informed and do what's best for you and your baby.  



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