When maternity leave ends, many mothers think they have no choice but to stop breastfeeding when they return to work.
In a bid to reduce child mortality rates and raise a healthier nation, the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) urges mothers to stand up for their legal rights as employees and continue to provide the most healthy option for their baby by breastfeeding them.
Chantel Cronje, legal advisor at Legal and Tax Services said, “Mothers don’t know that they are legally entitled to have breastfeeding breaks. According to the Code of Good Practice on protection of employees during pregnancy and after birth of a child it’s your right to breastfeed or express milk at your workplace until your baby is six months old.”
Low number of mothers choose to breastfeed
Breastfeeding activist and executive director at SABR, Stasha Jordan raised concerns about the low number of mothers that choose to breastfeed, “It worries us that only 7,2% of South African mothers breastfeed their babies. This statistic only worsens when mothers return to work. Unfortunately many think that formula feeding is easier, but nutritionally it doesn’t compare to breastmilk. The very best thing a mother can do for their child is to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months.”
Breastmilk contains all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals babies need
“It makes sense both medically and financially. If mothers know their rights and are empowered to apply them, we can raise a healthier nation,” said Jordan. The Code of Good Practice forms part of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997.
Cronje explained how the law provides for breastfeeding breaks:
“As a mother you are entitled to two breastfeeding or expressing breaks a day. Each 30-minute break cannot coincide with your lunch break and must be considered as paid time.”
Jordan said that expressing milk during work hours is vital to ensure a mothers’ milk supply does not diminish and will provide the bottled breastmilk needed for a carer to feed a baby the following day.
“The first prize is for employers to provide a nursing facility so that new mothers can breastfeed their babies at work, but at the very least employers should have a fridge for expressed breastmilk storage,” said Jordan.
Notify employers in advance
Cronje urged pregnant mothers to notify their employers well in advance of their intention to breastfeed or express milk at work so that a clean, private area with access to water can be arranged – as required by law.
“An employee cannot be dismissed for demanding a breastfeeding break or for any reasons related to pregnancy.” If any legal rights are withheld, Cronje recommended that the employee submit a written complaint within the first 30 days and approach her union, bargaining council or a lawyer. “If the matter is not resolved it can be sent to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) or any other regulating body concerned.”
Jordan urged employers to encourage breastfeeding at work.
“If mothers are breastfeeding or expressing milk at work, their babies are less likely to get sick, this means less absenteeism and increased productivity and morale as employees know their rights are respected. Breastfeeding breaks at work should be completely normal and acceptable. It takes one brave employee at a time to change the status quo and empower other new working mothers to put their babies’ health first.”
Mothers that continue breastfeeding while returning to work can also play a vital role in saving other babies’ lives. Jordan encouraged mothers to donate extra breastmilk to SABR banks, located at hospitals across the country.
SABR redistributes donated breastmilk to babies in neonatal intensive care who are too weak to breastfeed. Breastfed children have at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children and an exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child.