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Breastfeeding is a joint effort

© UNICEF Malaysia/2008/Tee
With support and protection from their company, ExxonMobil employees (L-R) Emily, Sageetha and Soefinar have been able to continue breastfeeding their babies even after returning to work.

By Tee Shiao Eek

KUALA LUMPUR, 30 September 2008 – Chiller bag bumping against her hip, Emily, a mother of two, heads for the room tucked away in a quiet corner and enters with her special access card.

The mother’s room in Menara ExxonMobil is a haven for breastfeeding employees who need to express milk during working hours. Thanks to these facilities and other policies that support employees with families, Emily, a planning analyst, has been able to continue breastfeeding even after returning to work.

“During the first six months of life, an infant should receive no other food but mother’s milk, the only natural, complete and complex nutrition for human infants,” says UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Mr Youssouf Oomar.

Yet, mothers the world over do not receive adequate support and protection that enable them to breastfeed their children exclusively for the first six months of life, and continue thereafter until the age of two.

According to the Ministry of Health’s 2006 statistics, although almost 95% of mothers in Malaysia have ever breastfed their children, less than two in 10 infants are exclusively breastfed for six months.

“Every woman has the right to be supported in carrying out her role as a mother and not to be discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of pregnancy or maternity,” Mr Youssouf stresses.

Mum’s milk is the best

© UNICEF Malaysia/2008/Tee
The Mother's Room in Menara ExxonMobil is clean, spacious, comfortable and properly equipped to meet the needs of breastfeeding employees.

A breastfeeding mother works around the clock, seven days a week, to produce her precious and invaluable resource, her milk.

On top of this full-time job, mothers also have to juggle their other jobs – the ones that bring in the money and put food on the table. To perform in both roles, breastfeeding mothers need workplace support that underline a universal attitude that prioritises breastfeeding.

In the heart of Kuala Lumpur, one company shows its support for breastfeeding mums.

“We have guidelines and programs in place that help to create a conducive work environment for our employees. When employees don’t have to worry about balancing work commitments with priorities at home, they will be happier and more focused on work,” says ExxonMobil Subsidiaries in Malaysia Director of Human Resources Sharifah Hamidah Syed Hassan.

ExxonMobil’s workplace policies include providing paid maternity leave, paternity leave, workplace flexibility programs, maternity healthcare, healthcare for dependents, dependent care assistance, childcare assistance and a special mother's room for nursing mothers.

Clean and quiet, the recently refurbished room is equipped with security access, a sink, refrigerator, microwave, sterilisers, lockers and two separate rooms with tables and comfortable sofas. With the soft lighting and the pretty pink wall motifs, employees have a private and conducive space to express and store their milk safely.

“It’s also a place to bond with other breastfeeding mothers in the office, share stories and tips, and encourage each other,” says Emily, whose boss has been fully supportive of her efforts to continue breastfeeding.

“Working in a company that supports mothers, by providing a room like this, encourages you to continue breastfeeding,” says IT systems analyst Sageetha. Her first child was not breastfed exclusively, and unfortunately, falls ill more easily than his young sister, who has now been breastfed for eight months.

These women prove that working and breastfeeding can co-exist together – a woman does not have to give up one or the other.

Maternity protection

But they admit that few other companies are as exemplary as ExxonMobil.

“We’ve heard stories about women expressing milk in the filing room, the surau or even under their desks,” says ExxonMobil's IT customer service analyst Soefinar, for whom breastfeeding is so important that she would rather quit than work in an environment unsupportive of breastfeeding.

For some working women, asking for more than 8 weeks of maternity leave to stay at home with their babies isn’t an option, with the threat of work dismissal, demotion or replacement hanging over their heads.

Furthermore, maternity protection is also essential to ensure that women’s work does not threaten their health during pregnancy and recovery from childbirth.

Mr Youssouf voices his concern for women working in non-formal working conditions, especially those with unsafe job positions, low-paid women who are heads of households, urban-poor and rural women, and migrant women who are living alone.

The International Labour Organisation’s Maternity Protection Convention 2000 (No. 183) addresses a wide range of maternity protection policies that provide job protection, 14 weeks’ paid leave after birth, paid nursing breaks, on-site or near-site child care facilities, protection from discrimination, and flexible scheduling with part-time options for parents. However, Malaysia has not ratified ILO Convention No. 183.

UNICEF encourages accelerated actions by government, corporations and NGOs to remove all obstacles that discourage working women from breastfeeding their infants.

“Appropriate maternity protection is the least we can do to protect the dignity of motherhood and acknowledge a woman’s unpaid work in getting our new citizens off to a good start in life,” Mr Youssouf concludes.



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