Breaking barriers: Empowering working parents to embrace breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is not just a personal choice; it is a fundamental right that every woman should be able to exercise without compromising her career.

breastfeeding in public space Nepal maternity leave
Photo: Pexels/ Wendy Wei

As we observe World Breastfeeding Week 2023, it is crucial that we shine a spotlight on the challenges faced by working mothers who wish to breastfeed their children. This annual event, organised by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), emphasises its immense benefits for both infants and mothers.

However, we must acknowledge that many women struggle to continue breastfeeding due to inadequate workplace support. This is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention from governments, employers, and society as a whole.

Breastfeeding is not just a personal choice; it is a fundamental right that every woman should be able to exercise without compromising her career.

Workplace challenges and need to overcome

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Workplace challenges remain the most common obstacle for women who either do not breastfeed or cut their breastfeeding journey short. As society evolves and women increasingly participate in the workforce, it is essential to create an environment that supports their dual roles as mothers and professionals.

Maternity leave plays a pivotal role in enabling this. While some countries offer adequate paid maternity leave, there are still over half a billion working women who lack access to essential maternity provisions.

World Breastfeeding Week 2023 highlights the urgent need for a minimum of 18 weeks of paid maternity leave, ideally extending to more than six months. Longer maternity leave not only facilitates the bonding between mother and child but also allows mothers to breastfeed for a more extended period, leading to better health outcomes for both.

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a daunting experience for new mothers, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. Employers must recognise the value of a breastfeeding-friendly workplace. Sadly, only 42 countries currently mandate these types of facilities in workplaces, leaving countless working mothers without the support they need.

We must challenge this status quo and encourage employers to invest in providing appropriate accommodations to ensure that working mothers can breastfeed their children without stress or discomfort.

Beyond physical facilities, flexible return-to-work options are crucial. The transition back to work can be overwhelming for new mothers, and having the flexibility to accommodate breastfeeding or expressing milk should not be a luxury but a basic right.

By implementing such provisions, employers can demonstrate their commitment to supporting the well-being of their employees and their families. Promoting breastfeeding at work is not just about enhancing individual health outcomes; it is also an investment in a sustainable future.

Breastfeeding has a positive impact on children’s lifelong development and health, which ultimately contributes to building healthier societies and workforces. Moreover, it is essential to recognise that when women receive comprehensive support to balance work and breastfeeding, it benefits everyone involved – from families to employers and the broader community.

Call for change

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As we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, we call upon governments, policymakers, and businesses to step up their efforts to support working mothers. We must establish robust maternity protections, ensuring that all women, irrespective of their work, have access to at least 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and workplace accommodations.

It is our collective responsibility to create an inclusive and nurturing environment that allows women to embrace their roles as both caregivers and professionals.

Let us seize this opportunity to champion best practices in workplace-related breastfeeding support, providing every working mother with the tools she needs to succeed in both her personal and professional life.

By doing so, we will not only foster healthier families but also build a stronger and more equitable society for generations to come. Let World Breastfeeding Week 2023 serve as a catalyst for change, empowering working mothers and paving the way for a brighter, more supportive future for all.

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Bind is a student at St Xavier’s College Maitighar.

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