Many women struggle to continue breastfeeding when they return to work and research shows that breastfeeding rates go down when women go back to work, said the Association for Dietetics South Africa (ADSA).
“It is therefore important for South Africa to focus on improving comprehensive maternity protection for women, which is defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as: health protection in the workplace, a minimum period of maternity leave, some form of cash and medical benefits while on maternity leave, job security, non-discrimination and support to breastfeed or express milk upon return to work,” ADSA said in a statement this week.
They said South Africa has a far way to go to support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.
“Current law indicates that women should receive four months of maternity leave, however, paid leave is not mandatory (although government departments and some companies do provide paid leave). It would be very important for all stakeholders to advocate for longer maternity leave (up to 6 months) and that paid leave is mandatory.
“Non-standard employees (employees placed by temporary employment services, employees on temporary or fixed-term contracts and part-time employees such as domestic workers or farm workers) are a particularly vulnerable group. This group of women often have to claim pay for their maternity leave from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and this can be an extremely time-consuming and complex process for some women,” the Association said.
Once back at work, women should be informed that they are entitled to two 30-minute breaks during their work day to breastfeed or express breast milk until their infant is six months old. “This enables mothers to return to work and earn an income whilst still providing their infants breastmilk, the best feeding option. All stakeholders should work together in an attempt to improve the support of women to be able to continue breastfeeding when they return to work.”
The Association said South Africa has much to gain in turning around its low rates of exclusive breastfeeding and actively striving to reach the 2025 target of 50% of mothers’ breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life. “Developing a national culture that supports the truism that ‘breast is best’ can have far-reaching positive impacts for our children, mothers and country.”
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated around the world from 1 to 7 August every year to raise awareness, protect, promote and support breastfeeding worldwide.