BY: Andrea Lardani
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO) breastfeeding benefits children´s as well as mother´s health. Women who breastfeed have lower rates of breast cancer rates before menopause and potentially lower risks of ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and coronary heart disease. Because of this, the WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months. Nevertheless, many women stop breastfeeding and one of the most common causes is returning to work.
Working should not necessarily have to lead to reduce breastfeeding rates. Rather, it is the difficulty of continuing to breastfeed under the conditions experienced when they return to work that women most often mention as the reasons to interrupt lactation. Women’s possibility to breastfeed is significantly reduced when they return to work if breastfeeding breaks are not available, if infant care near her workplace is inaccessible or unaffordable, and if no facilities are available for expressing or storing milk. Legislation guaranteeing breastfeeding breaks could improve working mothers’ ability to continue to breastfeed. However, it might not be enough if organizations do not incorporate a culture of breastfeeding with policies and procedures that support it.
Why and how should organizations support lactation?
When women work in an environment where their right to breastfeed is supported, they are more motivated and engaged. Absenteeism, permissions for medical appointments and medical leaves decrease, as breastfeeding benefits mother´s and child´s health. Work abandonment of recent mothers, with the related costs of staff turnover fall.
Companies may support lactation by:
- Creating procedure manuals – guidelines – for managers and employees about how to adhere to the policy and comply with the procedures.
- Contracting specialized professional support to train Human Resources and managers about adequate duration of maternity and paternity leaves as well as how to support mothers who return to work.
- Incorporating breastfeeding, pumping and storing facilities and promoting proper use.
- Suggesting / designing communications to promote a breastfeeding culture.
- Preparing managers and directors to become mentors who may share their personal experience of conciliating breastfeeding and work to those employees who are o will be in the same situation. These mentors may also become valid intermediaries between the employees and the company so that workers may ask for information and present their needs related to breastfeeding.
- Offering employees telephonic and face to face breastfeeding counselling provided by specialized professionals during and after maternity leave.
- Onsite and online workshops for employees about how to manage lactation and return to work and resources such as books and specific reading materials.
In Latin America women join the workforce at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world, adding up to 80 million more women since the 1960s. For this reason, organizations need to pay particular attention to specific issues related to women, such as breastfeeding. This of course will benefit the whole company, not only women.