World Breastfeeding Week: A better work environment for nursing parents
This year’s celebrations underscore the urgency to enhance supportive environments for breastfeeding in workplaces. The achievement of such an environment is not a solitary task; it requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders
From Aug 1-Aug 7, the globe is uniting to make the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) 2023 a success by bringing to light a multitude of barriers nursing parents face at the workplace. Determined by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), this year’s theme, “Enabling breastfeeding: Making a difference for working parents,” serves as a clarion call for enhancing support systems for breastfeeding in professional settings.
Situation in Nepal
The Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2022 shows that breastfeeding practices in Nepal reflect an encouraging trend with nearly all children under the age of two having been breastfed at some point. The early initiation of breastfeeding is evident as approximately 60 percent of children are exclusively breastfed during the first two days following birth, and over half (55 percent) are breastfed within the first hour of life. This is an essential practice for establishing a strong maternal-child bond and providing vital early nutrition. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. In Nepal, adherence to this guideline is not strong, with 56 percent of children under six months, who live with their mother being exclusively breastfed. Moreover, it's worth noting that about one percent of children under six months are not breastfed at all, indicating a need for continued public health efforts to promote and support breastfeeding for all infants.
Significance of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding, a natural but crucial part of early childhood development, brings enormous health advantages to both the mother and the baby. Breast milk, packed with essential nutrients, bolsters the child’s immune system, thereby reducing the risk of numerous health complications. Simultaneously, breastfeeding aids maternal recovery post-delivery and forms a unique bond between mother and the child.
However, breastfeeding is under siege from various factors, the most prevalent of which is the challenges at the workplace. It is the primary reason why many women either do not initiate breastfeeding or terminate it prematurely, undermining the recommended minimum of six months of exclusive breastfeeding.
Role of maternity leave
The duration of maternity leave is pivotal to the breastfeeding narrative. It offers mothers the necessary time to recover post-delivery, establish a breastfeeding routine, and nurture a bonding experience with their newborns. It is disconcerting that parents with less than three months of maternity leave reported truncated breastfeeding durations compared to those availing three or more months of leave. These findings shed light on the urgent need to revisit maternity leave policies worldwide. The government should provide at least 6 months of maternity leave to foster breastfeeding.
Across the globe, a disturbingly meager number of countries mandate workplace breastfeeding facilities—only 42. A breastfeeding-friendly workplace necessitates facilities such as clean and private spaces for expressing milk, appropriate storage facilities, and flexible break times. Without these provisions, the mission to extend breastfeeding duration faces a steep uphill struggle. In Nepal, we still struggle to find a proper breastfeeding space in the workplaces, and also in public spaces such as restaurants, airports, parks and movie halls. An urgency to establish breastfeeding corners is crucial to create a conducive environment for mothers to breastfeed their children.
Breastfeeding serves as a potent tool for battling inequality and driving sustainable development. The global recognition of this fact is evidenced in the alignment of WBW themes with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since 2016. Addressing the disparities that hinder breastfeeding contributes to an array of SDGs, such as reducing poverty, promoting good health, and achieving gender equality.
Making a difference
This year’s WBW theme underscores the urgency to enhance supportive environments for breastfeeding in workplaces. The achievement of such an environment is not a solitary task; it requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders—employers, policy-makers, health professionals, and the society as a whole.
Employers play a critical role in shaping breastfeeding-friendly workplaces by offering extended parental leave, creating private lactation rooms, and introducing flexible working hours. These measures not only boost employee satisfaction and retention but also contribute to the overall societal well-being by supporting child health and development.
Policy-makers, on their part, need to enforce comprehensive laws mandating adequate maternity leave and breastfeeding facilities at the workplace. Health professionals can foster a supportive environment by educating new parents about the importance of breastfeeding and assisting them in overcoming any challenges they may face.
Society’s role is equally vital. Breaking down the societal stigma surrounding breastfeeding, especially in public spaces, is essential. Understanding and supporting the needs of breastfeeding parents is a shared responsibility that helps to build a more inclusive community.
Legacy of WBW
The annual observance of WBW, initiated in 1992, commemorates the historic 1990 Innocenti Declaration. Through diverse themes—healthcare systems, women and work, the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, community support, ecology, economy, science, education, and human rights—it fosters awareness and champions policies to encourage breastfeeding.
In 2018, a World Health Assembly resolution endorsed WBW as a pivotal strategy for breastfeeding promotion, further cementing the global consensus on the importance of breastfeeding and the pressing need to bolster support for nursing parents, particularly within the workplace.
As we step into World Breastfeeding Week 2023, the challenge to support nursing parents at the workplaces is ever-present and ever-daunting. But it's a challenge we must face head-on. It’s time to normalize breastfeeding in every sphere of life, particularly in professional settings, and to make the dialogue about breastfeeding an integral part of our societal conversation. This week, let us renew our commitment to making workplaces truly supportive for all parents, nurturing a healthier and more equal world for future generations.
The author is a public health expert at Nepal Development Research Institute
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