Breastfeeding at Work
On August 7th 2019, Honorable Zuleikha Hassan, the Kwale County Women Representative, entered the National Assembly with her 5-month-old baby. Little did she know that that day would be the day she would disrupt the session as well as test the Health Act on breastfeeding/ lactating women in office. Chris Omulele, the House Speaker of the day, ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to have her removed from the chambers, terming her move as unprecedented and a disruption of business. Some members called for her removal because she had brought a “stranger” into the House against the “Standing Orders of Parliament”. This incident happened six years after the Parliamentary Service Commission was mandated to establish a creche to accommodate nursing members of Parliament and their children in 2012 but it is yet to be implemented.
The incident was a clear show of the laxity and slow implementation of certain health acts, more so acts that concern women, in employment. Employers in Kenya are reluctant and a laggard audience when it comes to implementing certain laws of the Employment Act, including the Health Act, 2017, Section 71 and 72, regarding the provision of lactation stations in work places as it was evident even in the National Assembly.
Breastfeeding is nature’s first immunization; the first prevention health measure, that can be given to a child at birth as it enables the infant to fight potential serious infection and the development of a child’s muscle as they latch onto their mother’s breast as well as the nurturing of mother-infant bond.
The restriction some employers use of giving new born lactating mothers 3 months of maternity leave is harmful to the parent, new born and their connection as well as their health. This has put female employees in a tough spot of either exiting the work force or to stop breastfeeding in order to secure their job forcing them to compromise their health and her child in order to make a living. The lactating mother resolve to modern breast-feeding ways of breast milk harvesting by breast pumps and storing in bottles for the baby and use of formula and early debut of other food substances. This puts the child at risk of slow development of the mind, bones, muscles and a higher chance of obesity as well as an early set on of detachment from the mother. Employers ought to offer flexible leave policies that take into account the needs of their employees.
Breastfeeding has lost its definition since its conceptualization. Having a newborn feeding, exclusively, on breastmilk from the mother for six months is for the betterment of the child as well as the mother as breastmilk has certain nutrients that seem to protect the later development of type 1 or type 2 diabetes in babies and against the development of type 2 diabetes in parents who breastfeed.
The Mother Goose Kenya is a community-based organization that focuses on helping communities improve the quality of child-care; breastfeeding included. They have a number of courses set to empower public on better child care skills and offer a service called Mummy-toto Lactation Suite. They are a number of lactation pods with different specifications including state of the art pods for indoor use, to cover a variety of office spaces as well as number of mothers lactating. These are just but a few resources that employers could use in compliance to legal requirements of the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Act 2017. Additionally, incorporating the pods is cost friendly and efficient compared to setting up lactating rooms
We need to take care of our newborns and support breastfeeding mothers to ease off the pressure or embarrassment of breastfeeding as it may affect production of breastmilk as well as the flow. This will encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the recommended 6 months to even 3 years to have the maximum possible outcome of breastmilk. There is need for more advocacy and sensitization around this act to ensure its full implementation by all employers in Kenya.