Breastfeeding by working mother
Seema, a mother of 2 month old boy lives at Kamrangirchar slum and works at a garments factory. When she was asked about exclusive breastfeeding, she smiled and said, "I know that, I need to breastfeed exclusively for first six months, but I have to resume work 2 months after. I will have to start from home at 7 am and will return on 7 pm. How can I breastfeed my baby?"
Rashida, a mother of 5 month old girl works at a private company. She angrily throw a lot of questions — "Are you joking? Will I go home during lunch time or will I bring her at office? Do you think my office will allow this? How can I breastfeed my daughter while I already joined my office?"
Mira, another worker of a reputed garments factory is blessed that her factory has crèche as per buyer compliance. She said, "We have crèche but it is at another block. We are allowed to spend half an hour with our babies at crèche, but I dare to go and the reason is floor supervisor shouts and indirectly shows fear of taking out portions of salary!"
Bangladesh is still far away to provide working mothers with the knowledge, support and tools they need to apply exclusive breastfeeding and raise healthy children. However, various community interventions have been initiated with multifaceted programmers for behaviour changing, educating and counselling families on breastfeeding and household work sharing, providing girls with education, life skill and discouraging the harmful practices regarding exclusive breastfeeding.
According to Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) 2014 preliminary findings, 55% of infants under the age of 6 months are exclusively breastfed. This lowered proportion than that of reported in 2011 BDHS (64%) is a staggering chasm.
A very welcomed move by the Government of Bangladesh was to extend paid maternity leave to six month from four months. The step was taken to combat malnutrition and to ensure the healthy growth of the newer generation. According to the Bangladesh Service Rules, a public servant can enjoy full paid maternity leave for six-months twice during the tenure of her service. But are the temporary workers at state owned office and private sectors can enjoy this leave? The answer is mostly NO. Few of the basic causes of this deprivation are the inactiveness of relevant Acts and lack of enforcement of the existing laws. Maternity leave is still an issue of mercy and sometimes viewed as special benefit or privilege for the women employee.
Another reason for not meeting exclusive breastfeeding is less confidence of the right holders (read, Mothers). Much more voice should be raised and self-confidence should be built up by the working mothers. They should keep in mind that their working status should not lead to the lower rate of breastfeeding.
Women employed away from home can continue exclusive breastfeeding feeding through a variety of approaches. A mother should breastfeed as often as possible when she is with her infant — she can express her breast milk in a clean covered bowl and ask caregiver to feed the infant with spoon during her absence; she can take a breastfeeding break at office to express her breast milk and store in a glass bottle.
Duty bearers (read Employer) should take into account that maternity leave benefits not only increase the chances of women employee to get back to their work and play an important role to increase organisational fidelity, efficiency, job satisfaction but also develop productive, healthy future human resources for the nation.
Much more needs to be done to support mothers — good counselling and support, providing lactation kit for pumping and storing milk, breastfeeding breaks, establishment of a good quality crèche or workplace breastfeeding room, allowing women to spend time with infant at crèche will help to create conducive environment in families in the community and at workplace to make a significant difference.
The writer is a nutritionist.