Breastfeeding in the Workplace

Employers throughout Antigua and Barbuda are being encouraged to provide a secure space in their establishments that would allow mothers returning to work after their maternity leave would have expired to breastfeed or extract milk from their breasts during working hours.

They are being asked to make their establishments more breastfeeding friendly and flexible by allotting extra minutes to nursing mothers.  The requests were made by members of the National Breastfeeding Committee who recently met with representatives of several business establishments at the Medical Benefit Conference Room on Nevis Street in St, John’s.

The meeting was a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment and the Rotary Club of Antigua Sundown.

Chairing the event was Dr. Janelle Williams, Communication Marketing Manager at MBS, member of the National Breastfeeding Committee and an advocate for breastfeeding in the workplace.

Breastfeeding in the workplace may appear inappropriate and unprofessional to some but since women make up forty percent of the workforce globally and fifty percent in countries such as Barbados and the Bahamas, supporting their decision to breastfeed in workplaces can be beneficial to employers and employees as it can translate into less sick days for the mothers, said Williams.

The health benefits of breastfeeding to mothers and infants were also mentioned by Dr. Williams.

Research has shown that breastfeeding is the best food for infants as it reduces their risk of infectious diseases, and this means fewer hospital stays and fewer prescriptions to be filled while at the same time reducing certain cancers in women, namely ovarian and breast, added the MBS Marketing Manager.

The World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment recommend that all babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life.  However, exclusive breastfeeding rates remain low globally and locally.   In Antigua and Barbuda, the government statistics shows that at 6 weeks post-partum only 30% of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding their infants. This nonconformity increases the risk of childhood diseases such as asthma, ear and respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes and diarrhea.  A mounting body of evidence suggests that breastfeeding may also play a role in preventing non-communicable disease risks later in life including protection against overweight and obesity in childhood.

Some mothers stop breastfeeding ahead of returning to work or shortly thereafter while others do not even attempt to breastfeed for fear of not being able to continue upon returning to work. Although some local employers facilitate breastfeeding mothers there are no national standards. Notwithstanding, employer support is crucial if Antigua and Barbuda is to increase its breastfeeding rate and raise a nation of healthy infants who are sick less often and mothers who are out from work due to sick babies.

The National Breastfeeding Committee comprises key professionals mainly from within the health sector to include nurses, nutritionist, and doctors whose aim is to promote and encourage mothers to breastfeed for at least the first six months of their baby’s lives.

Also addressing the meeting was Samantha Moitt, chairperson of the committee and Chief   Nutrition Officer within the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment.  She highlighted five necessary steps in support for mothers who wish to breastfeed on the job.

Start a conversation with employees:

Consider breastfeeding as a health topic by explaining the advantages, discuss the barriers, offer recreational material on Breastfeeding and reduce the hours of work.

Discuss with other senior managers:

There should be discussions with managers if the workplace is supportive and flexible with adequate space.

Allow breastfeeding mothers some flexibility:

This may mean allowing them longer breaks than usual.

Create space for breastfeeding mothers or customers.

Comfortable chairs and privacy which is a basic requirement.

Gifting breastfeeding supplies:

Breast pump, [electric or manual] nipple cream, breast milk storage bags and nursing pillows.

Other presenters were the President of Rotary Sundown Jonah Ormond, Colin Jenkins, architect and project manager along with Nurse Valarie Williams, the Non-Communicable Disease Coordinator within the Ministry of Health, Wellness & the Environment.

While Jonah Ormond spoke of the collaborative effort of the Rotary Club within the local community and its willingness to assist in whatever way possible, Jenkins focused on the need for healthy workspaces, free of mold and chemicals.

The main focus of Nurse Williams’ presentation was obesity in children and the need for regulations to curb the types of food given to children, especially in school cafeterias and by vendors on the school compounds.

The National Breastfeeding Committee is hoping that through education and dialogue with business owners, support for breastfeeding in the workplace will become a reality.

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