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Employers, Govt., must support lactating mothers at workplace: UN

The key to increasing breastfeeding rates globally is to support and protect lactating mothers in the workplace, the WHO stated.

HQ Team

August 2, 2023: The key to increasing breastfeeding rates globally is to support and protect lactating mothers in the workplace, the WHO stated.

“Supportive workplaces are key. Evidence shows that while breastfeeding rates drop significantly for women when they return to work, that negative impact can be reversed when workplaces facilitate mothers to continue to breastfeed their babies,” according to a joint WHO and UNICEF statement.

In the last decade, the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding has increased by a remarkable 10 percentage points, to 48% globally. 

Countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, Somalia, and Vietnam have achieved large increases in breastfeeding rates, showing that progress is possible when breastfeeding is protected, promoted, and supported.

70% global target

To reach the global 2030 target of 70%, the barriers women and families face to achieving their breastfeeding goals must be addressed, according to the global health agency.

Family-friendly workplace policies — such as paid maternity leave, breastfeeding breaks, and a room where mothers can breastfeed or express milk — create an environment that benefits not only working women and their families but also employers.

These policies generate economic returns by reducing maternity-related absenteeism, increasing the retention of female workers, and reducing the costs of hiring and training new staff.

From the earliest moments of a child’s life, breastfeeding is the ultimate child survival and development intervention. Breastfeeding protects babies from common infectious diseases and boosts children’s immune systems, providing the key nutrients children need to grow and develop to their full potential. 

Babies who are not breastfed, are 14 times more likely to die before they reach their first birthday than babies who are exclusively breastfed.

Informal, contract workers

The WHO and UNICEF called on governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to step up efforts to ensure a supportive breastfeeding environment for all working mothers.

The necessary environment must include those in the informal sector or on temporary contracts. They must’ve access to regular breastfeeding breaks and facilities that enable mothers to continue breastfeeding their children once they return to work.

Employers should provide sufficient paid leave to all working parents and caregivers to meet the needs of their young children. This includes paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks, preferably for a period of six months or more after birth.

Government and other stakeholders must invest in breastfeeding support policies and programs in all settings, including a national policy and program that regulates and promotes public and private sector support for breastfeeding women in the workplace.

Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide, according to the WHO.

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