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Thu, Sep

Exclusive breastfeeding among working mothers; Need for formidable policy

Exclusive breastfeeding, which is the practice of giving an infant only breast milk for the first six months of life (no other food or water), has the single largest potential to reduce child mortality.

It also affords an exclusively breastfed infant a stronger immunity against infection than babies who are introduced to formula feed during the first few months of life.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Fact Sheet No. 342, globally, only 38 per cent of infants from birth to six months are exclusively breastfed.

WHO recommendation 

It is in this regard that the WHO recommends to mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. 

The WHO’s Global Nutrition Target 2025 – Breastfeeding Policy Brief, enjoins member states to: “Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months up to at least 50 per cent by 2025”.  

Over the past four decades, women’s issues have become prominent on the global agenda, with these issues constituting major themes of conferences around the world.

 Governments are introducing and passing legislations on ways to adequately better the lot of women, but this will be more beneficial if these policies and programmes are translated to reflect in their daily lives through capacity enhancement and wellbeing.

Formal employment

The role of women in formal employment cannot be overemphasised, and every year, more women enter the formal labour market in Ghana in their quest to better their lot in contributing their quota to the macro-economic development of the country. 

Currently, more women are getting out of their home jobs into paid jobs and are forced to combine their work at home as homemakers and their jobs outside the home.  However, women in formal employment have lived with the burden of nursing their babies on resumption of duties after 12 weeks or less of maternity leave. 

This is the nightmare of a staff member of a prominent bank in Accra, I call her Mrs Nettey, who will be resuming work in a few days after safe delivery three months ago. She does not have a maid or relative around to help with the upkeep of her barely three-month old baby. Another nursing mother with one of the ministries in Accra just weaned her 14-week old baby because the breast milk had accumulated into a lump by the time she got home after close of work.  The baby could not suckle the breast in that condition, which led to its early weaning.

These and many others are the plight of most nursing mothers in the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and other formal sectors of the economy.

Jane Hodges of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Dr Anthony Baah, the Head of Research & Policy Department of the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), in 2011, under their article ‘Dialogue’ highlighted ILO’s Labour Law, “Section 57” which covers maternity and nursing. It makes provision for one hour during the working hours for women to nurse their babies up to their first year.

Again, one of the measures to be adopted by member states of the ILO to ensure the smooth implementation of Convention 183 on Maternity Protection is that: “A woman shall be provided daily breaks or daily reduction in hours of work to breastfeed her child, and the breaks or reduction in working hours shall be counted as working time and not deducted from the working hours of the breastfeeding woman.”

Daily breaks

However, these ‘daily breaks’ cannot be envisaged where there is no such facility provided to enable nursing mothers to breastfeed their babies while at work. A number of nursing mothers ‘hide’ themselves in the office in order to express breast milk to feed their babies later at home. Others do so in the washroom where the office happens to be an open one with more than one staff member. Again, a number of nursing mothers suffer severe headache and cold as a result of accumulation of breast milk while at work. 

The writer is with the Research and Policy Unit of the GRA

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