This morning, the South African Civil Society for Women’s Adolescents’ and Children’s Health (SACSoWACH) hosted a roundtable discussion to encourage better implementation of the Code of Good Practice for breastfeeding in the workplace, in an effort to create enabling environments for breastfeeding in the workplace. The event comes after a recent discovery that while women constitute close to half of the South African workforce (44%), the vast majority do not receive adequate maternity protection, support or facilities to promote breastfeeding.*
Held at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in Pretoria, the event included panellists from the Departments of Labour, Health, Social Development, Universities, Civil Society organisations and the Private Sector. Here, the panel and attendees discussed the importance of breastfeeding in support of children’s health development and to ensure sustainable social and economic development, and the very real difficulties that women face in the workplace every day. Practical and easy ways for employers to better support breastfeeding mothers were also explored.
Opening proceedings Professor Linda Richter, highlighted that if breastfeeding had been invented today, it would receive a Nobel Peace Prize, as an economic and development imperative.
“Breastfeeding plays a significant role in contributing to the optimal health and development of a child” said Sue Jones, Chairman of SACSoWACH, in her welcome address, on behalf of Dr Tshepo Motsepe. “It also contributes to securing and equalising their right to develop to their full potential. Because of the critical link between breastfeeding and health and child development, support for breastfeeding is of the utmost national development importance and achieving many of our sustainable development goals – not just health-related, but our social and economic goals too,” she continued.
“We need to see leadership in government declare breastfeeding as a valuable objective,” says Patricia Martin-Wiesner, senior policy analyst at the Centre of Excellence in Human Development. “Breastfeeding must become the business of business, and a key part of this lies in the bridging of the gap between the corporate sector and the development sector,” she continues.
The Code of Good Practice states that mothers with children younger than 6-months are, by law, entitled to at least two 30-minute breastfeeding breaks a day; over and above their lunch break. However, this code is not always implemented correctly and returning to work becomes a barrier to breastfeeding because many mothers struggle to balance breastfeeding and work, and stop breastfeeding earlier than recommended.
“Breastfeeding is not only beneficial to babies, but to workplaces as well. Recent studies indicate that by supporting breastfeeding mothers, employers improve staff loyalty and maintain high staff retention rates,” said Jones. “The children of today are South Africa’s future, and we need to ensure that they have every chance of survival,” she concluded.