More women are being recruited into the workforce. This is a wonderful development. But it is not enough to give someone a job, it is required that an employer provides a comfortable working environment for their employees. Over the years, working conditions are usually more difficult for women as their unique features are not considered. Women are naturally endowed with the ability to bear children and those in the workforce do this while keeping up with their job requirements. Usually, most workplaces provide maternity leave, but it doesn’t last for very long, especially in private establishments. And these women who give birth need to breastfeed their young ones and the work environment has not made this easy for the woman. Many workplaces are not breastfeeding-friendly. It is surprising that some women are even reprimanded if they are found breastfeeding their babies at their workplaces.
Why should we pay attention to this?
The Employment Relations (Breaks, Infant Feeding, and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2008 requires employers to provide appropriate facilities and breaks for employees who wish to breastfeed during work, where it is reasonable and practicable. Most establishments do not implement this, after all, there are no serious implications of not implementing the Act. Most women are forced to enroll their very young babies in the creche. This has some psychological effects on the mother and the child. The mother-child bonding fostered by breastfeeding is hindered.
After their maternity leave, women may have to come to work with their children until they are old enough to be handed to a caretaker or enrolled in a creche. During this period they have to breastfeed their babies while at work. The woman has to go to an obscure place to feed her infant. She is shy to do this in the presence of her colleagues- why wouldn’t she be, especially the male colleagues, so she has to go find a secret place and breastfeed her baby. Let’s take for instance the most common work available for women in Nigeria- teaching, schools have a staff room, and all the teachers including the male and female teachers have access to this room and this is all the school provides.
Most women would not breastfeed their babies in the presence of their colleagues and may be forced to always thrust feeding bottles into their babies’ mouths. She has the option of extracting and preserving her breast milk. This is not an easy task and besides, the milk sours easily. She also has the option of giving her baby water and artificial milk but what if she does exclusive breastfeeding (based on WHO’s guidelines), then the latter option is definitely not for her. Most women who intended to do exclusive breastfeeding oftentimes are not able to do this especially if their leave is over because the working environment is not conducive for this. This is not fair. No woman should be denied the opportunity to bond with her baby and nurture him or her the right way because she has to keep her job.
How does it affect her productivity at work?
With a baby throwing tantrums and would not be pacified until it suckles, the mother is disorganized at work as she can’t bring out her breast on display. This will definitely affect her productivity. In situations where her baby is in a creche at a young age, she constantly panics and wonders if she is making the right decision: seemingly choosing between her job and her child. No woman should be made to feel like she’s chosen. It’s not a good place to be.
What can be done?
There are companies who make provisions for workers who are breastfeeding their babies but unfortunately, most companies and establishments do not see the need to provide lactation rooms or private office spaces. A typical Nigerian workplace does not usually put this into consideration. But we can right this wrong and change the narrative. Let’s see our women as an integral part of the workforce. And provide a place she can go and breastfeed her baby in her own privacy. She doesn’t need to run helter-skelter when the baby starts crying for food. She also doesn’t have to starve her baby because she has a job. In addition, The Employee Relations Amendment Act mandating employers to create these breastfeeding-friendly workplaces should be enforced on establishments with penalties for failure to implement it. Women and allies can also talk about this on social media to raise awareness about this problem and get more people to take action. Together, we can make our workplaces breastfeeding-friendly for our women.