BREAST milk is key to an infant’s cognitive abilities, immunity and nutrition.
The provision of breastfeeding spaces is vital for productivity, according to a study conducted by the University of Cape Town.

Mothers who breastfed at work were more committed to their company or institution.

Associate professor Ameeta Jaga, an organisational psychologist in the commerce faculty’s School of Management Studies, said the provision of spaces for breastfeeding was vital for creating an inclusive, productive workplace and had been a long time coming.

While the country’s labour force is composed of around 45% women, there is little support for new mothers returning to work and little grasp of the compelling business and economic benefits of breastfeeding for society.

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

“And it’s not just a woman’s issue that ends with maternity leave. In the context of the UN’s 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,” said Jaga.

The 2016 Lancet Breastfeeding Series said investing in breastfeeding was the most effective single intervention in reducing child mortality.

Breast milk contains a powerful combination of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antibodies specifically tailored to meet an infant’s changing nutritional needs.

Research shows that low exclusive breastfeeding rates contribute to the high prevalence of malnutrition, diarrhoea, pneumonia and under-5 mortality in South Africa.

Before this leads to a crisis, Jaga said, the country needs to create awareness. In her own workplace, she has spoken to UCT’s Organisational Health section to consider a breastfeeding-space-at-work policy and guidelines for supporting breastfeeding at work at the university.

She said all that 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 mothers.