Employers need to rethink how they support breastfeeding at work if they want a more productive workforce. File Image: IOL
Employers need to rethink how they support breastfeeding at work if they want a more productive workforce, said associate professor Ameeta Jaga, an organisational psychologist in the commerce faculty’s School of Management Studies at UCT.

She added that provision of spaces for breastfeeding mothers was vital for creating an inclusive, productive workplace.

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

Mothers who breastfed at work were more committed to their company or institution and had increased productivity, according to Jaga. “It’s not just a women’s issue that ends with maternity leave. In the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically on health and well-being, decent work, gender equality and the overall future of society, supporting breastfeeding at work is vital.”

Jaga added that while the percentage of the country’s babies that are exclusively breastfed had increased from 8% in 2012, the lowest in the world, to 32%, this number was still much lower in months four, five and six than in months one, two and three.

Research showed these low exclusive breastfeeding rates contribute to the high prevalence of malnutrition, diarrhoea, pneumonia and under-five mortality in South Africa.

“These small awareness shifts make a difference.

“One doesn’t have to implement high-cost, structural changes.

“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.”

She pointed out that what was needed was a comfortable private space, fridge facilities for storing expressed breast milk, and somewhere to wash a breast pump.

UCT’s Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences recently established a mothers room, which offers a private space for breastfeeding.

Last year, a similar facility was opened at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, thanks to hospital management, the Children’s Hospital Trust and the Child Health Advocacy Committee of UCT’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health.