Folake is excited about the arrival of her new baby after being married for some years and a blossoming career in investment banking. She plans to breastfeed her baby exclusively for 6 months as advised during her ante-natal sessions.
On settling down with her baby at home, 6 weeks down the line, she had to resume as an ad-hoc committee member on a project at work. The moment she began actively participating in the project meetings, she noticed a decline in her breastmilk flow.
She is worried that her baby lately is hungrier, may lose weight and is now considering introducing formula to augment. She’s equally confused on how to introduce her baby to solids. This is the reality of most new moms globally.
According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, women account for 43.8% of the Nigerian workforce, yet very few of these women are able to exclusively breastfeed their babies or carry on with breastfeeding after they resume maternity leave.
This is a major contribution to the low rates of exclusive breastfeeding which stands currently at 29%, leaving 71% of Nigerian children missing out on the benefits.
In addition, many more working moms are finding it difficult navigating the murky waters of introducing their babies to solids and getting them nutritionally balanced as they have to resume to work earlier than needed.
Findings reveal that mothers get discouraged from exclusive breastfeeding due to fatigue, perceived milk insufficiency, worry about the effectiveness of breastfeeding for baby’s weight gain, difficulty combining household chores with breastfeeding, need to return to work after maternity leave amongst other reasons.
These plethora of reasons are not uncommon for even stay-at-home moms, entrepreneurs and so on.
The theme for the just-concluded 2023’s World Breastfeeding Week is focused on breastfeeding and work. Enabling breastfeeding – making a difference for working parents. According to WHO, over 500 million women globally do not have adequate maternity protections in their national laws.
Nigeria’s maternity leave policy grants a 12-week maternity leave period for new mothers, and they are expected to resume their employment once this period elapses. This means that working women are expected to resume to work whilst exclusive breastfeeding is ongoing.
Although work and breastfeeding may be difficult for some mothers depending on their working conditions, gender-role ideologies, the support system available to them and the availability of help to overcome any difficulties they may encounter during the process.
Many women find it challenging to maintain a breastfeeding routine while dealing with long work hours, lack of privacy, potential criticism from colleagues, lack of knowledge on strategies to make breastfeeding work for them, limited access to appropriate lactation facilities at work amongst others.
Mothers who aspire to continue breastfeeding may encounter feelings of stress and guilt in certain working environments that do not foster a supportive culture for this vital practice.
With all of these glaring reasons, how then are we able to achieve the target of 50% exclusive breastfeeding rate by the World Health Assembly by 2050?
In the nearest future, predictions show that more women would be working outside of their homes to support their families financially; this means that the rate of women in the workforce would likely increase.
This calls thus, for a rethink around the policies, awareness and sustainable support for young, working mothers in Nigeria, other parts of Africa and the world at large.
According to Alive & Thrive, the cost of not breastfeeding in Nigeria alone stands at $9 billion (N2.84 trillion) in addition to other burdens on the healthcare sector such as the associated costs of treatments, lost hours of productivity, transportation which amounts to 25% of the treatment itself.
When young, working moms have to work from or outside of home, it takes a toll on the goal of reducing the overall rate of child malnutrition.
For Nigeria, the overall rate of child malnutrition, according to UNICEF currently stands as high as 37% including wasting, stunting, overweight and underweight.
New Approaches to Childcare Support for Working Moms in 2023
According to surveys, only about 9% of organizations in Nigeria provide adequate support for nursing mothers in relation to early-life childcare.
We need to begin to look at new approaches and concerns such as:
1.Improved Awareness & Sensitization: Employers & Organizations need to review the HR policies relating to women to create an atmosphere that supports young moms. Other team members can be placed on standby to cover up for breastfeeding moms when they take breastfeeding or pumping breaks at work to ensure they productivity and guilt free breastfeeding break sessions.
In addition, workplace support programs like lactation education can be made available to pregnant and breastfeeding parents at work.
2. Lactation Rooms & In-Office Creche Services: Clean and safe private rooms with access to fridge for storing breast milk should be made available for breastfeeding moms. This need not be too big or expensive for the company to afford.
3. Mental Healthcare covered by benefits scheme: Postpartum depression remains a real situation amongst young mothers, especially as the strain on women to provide financial support to their families increase.
It is essential that mental health coverage is included as the Human Resource Departments consider these real-life situations aside the regular medical issues under health insurance packages.
4. Trade Unions: Advocacy and awareness can be advanced further through trade unions including the rights of women at the forefront of their activism. Breastfeeding & Child Nutrition is a national assignment and the duty of everyone.
5. Extended Maternity Leave periods: There are additional issues plaguing women during and after childbirth than is less spoken about, some of which would affect optimal breastfeeding and child nutrition rates.
For instance, new moms who are struggling with personal issues such as the loss of their partners, insufficient spousal support, optional single motherhood and so on. Recommendations for the extension of maternity could be as much as 18-20 weeks.
6. Paternity Leaves: Since breastfeeding requires a lot more support for working moms, it would be helpful if paternity leaves are observed and extended. Fathers need to be there for their partners to provide physical and emotional support as this goes a long way.
7. Flexible working hours: The popularity of the work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid work system is no longer news. Whilst some companies may already be thinking of rescinding their decisions of the work-from-home, it could be beneficial to have rethinks and more flexibility for nursing mothers as a form of support for their breastfeeding goals.
8. Nutrition Education for young moms: Over 65% of the meals consumed by Nigerian children are imported, yet up to 37% of the children are malnourished, largely due to the inability to afford nutritious meals. On the other hand, for most working moms, they get too busy to even make the right informed choices.
Indeed, more lies in the hands of families and stakeholders to prioritize nutrition education for new families on locally-available food options for the children.
This would go a long way in reducing the rate of malnutrition through improved breastfeeding practices and onward nutrition into school age.
Conclusively, employers, policy makers and society can support child nutrition by creating more awareness and dispelling the myths around breastfeeding, child nutrition as it relates to working moms.
This would help more mothers get support on combining breastfeeding & childcare with their careers, which ensures the wellbeing of children at large, their present and future health.
Toyin Onigbanjo is a child nutrition & gender advocate. She is the founder of Augustsecrets Ltd, a child nutrition company providing healthier nutrition options for babies and young children.