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Breastfeeding experts urge workplace support for mothers

UNICEF South Africa/2019/Mojapelo
© UNICEF South Africa/2019/Mojapelo
The editorial roundtable panelists pose with baby shaped informative boards.

Johannesburg, May 21, 2019 – UNICEF and the National Department of Health (NDoH) today urged workplaces to support mothers to breastfeed. Currently, many employers know very little about the breastfeeding provisions that are in the code of good practice included in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

This call was made at a roundtable discussion on ways to support breastfeeding in the workplace, attended by experts from UNICEF, the NDoH, and the University of Stellenbosch. The roundtable discussion explored how working mothers can claim their rights to breastfeeding as well as the role employers should play.

South Africa’s Basic Conditions of Employment Act includes guidelines that promote breastfeeding in the workplace (Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy and after the Birth of a Child) that makes provision for two 30-minute breastfeeding breaks. Despite this, few employers and workers are aware of the code, and workplaces most usually lack facilities that allow for breastfeeding or the expressing and storing of milk.

Dr Lesley Bamford of the NDoH gave a brief background of the work that is being done by government through their Side by Side Campaign. The campaign aims to ensure that children receive care and protection they require to reach their full potential. Supporting breastfeeding is one of the core mandates of this campaign.

“This campaign is important because it gives advice to mothers about the first 1000 days, which is a crucial time in the development of the child”, said Prof Bamford.

Ms Ann Behr of the Department of Health spoke about the benefits of breastfeeding as well as the workplace toolkit which is a guideline for organisations. The toolkit is expected to help South Africa’s effort to reach the World Health Assembly target of at least 50% of infants under 6 months of age being exclusively breastfed by year 2025. Currently the figure is at 32%.

“In a breastfeeding policy review, out of 100 respondents from 32 organisations, only 11 had a workplace breastfeeding policy; while just 5 had a written policy providing breastfeeding breaks for six months” Said Ms Behr.

Ms Lynette Daniels, who is doing her PhD on the subject at the University of Stellenbosch, presented the latest findings on support for breastfeeding in the workplace. Key to the findings, was that support practices were limited and inadequate. This is mainly due to a variety of factors, such as the lack of private space and time for expressing breastmilk, as well as negative and unsupportive attitudes from co workers and supervisors.

“Employers do not consider breastfeeding a priority. As a result, more focus is placed on work, and targets; there is also a lack of funding to provide breastfeeding space and resources. Support for breastfeeding in the workplace is limited and there is widespread ignorance about the rights employees have.” said Daniels

A roundtable discussion followed the presentations. The panelists discussed what workplace breastfeeding entails. It also included a discussion on how the workplace can be made conducive for breastfeeding, and the steps employers and colleagues can take to encourage breastfeeding. Some of these include establishing breastfeeding support groups, and employers providing time and space for new mothers to nurse or express milk.

Dr Alison Feeley, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist said breastfeeding in the workplace must be treated as a norm, noting that many mothers know the benefits of breastfeeding, but they tell us that they choose not to breastfeed as they need to return to work. Returning to work should not stop a mother from initiating and sustaining breastfeeding. We need to establish how we can support the mothers who struggle to breastfeed. Workplaces are important in doing this.”

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For more information, and/or to arrange interviews, please contact:
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UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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For more information, please contact:
Rayana Rassool, Communication for Development, UNICEF South Africa, +27 82 5611168,



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