Returning to work after maternity leave is one of the top reasons why moms stop breastfeeding their babies. But did you know that breastfeeding mothers in South Africa are protected by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and are legally entitled to take two 30-minute breaks per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk if their babies are younger than six months?
Most women, however, do not receive adequate maternity protection, making returning to work a barrier to breastfeeding as they struggle to balance the demands of breastfeeding and their job.
Know your rights
ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa) spokesperson, Zelda Ackerman, whose areas of expertise includes baby and child feeding, urges new working moms to know their rights and to get the support that they need from their bosses and colleagues to ensure that they can continue breastfeeding their babies after returning to work.
Zelda’s top tips for breastfeeding moms returning to work include:
- Before your return to work, give yourself enough time to get to grips with finding the pump that works best for you and regularly expressing milk – and give your baby enough time to get used to bottle-fed breast milk. Time and practice will help you both to establish this as a stress-free routine before the big change ahead.
- Also, ahead of time, build up a stock of breast milk at home – it can be refrigerated and frozen. Stored breast milk should always be dated, and you retain more nutritional quality if you refrigerate it immediately after you have expressed.
- On your return to work, have straightforward conversations with your bosses and team members, as necessary, so they are clear about your breastfeeding goals and needs. Be clear about your legal right to two, paid 30-minute breastfeeding breaks each working day, and establish with them how this is going to work best for you and what accommodations you will need.
- If you encounter resistance or lack of support in your workplace, get help rather than give up on breastfeeding. Other working mothers in your workplace and HR personnel may help to raise awareness of the importance of your continued breastfeeding. External sources of help can include breastfeeding support organisations and registered dieticians.
- You can reduce discomfort from engorgement and pace your two breastfeeding breaks optimally at work if you arrange your workday mornings so that you give your baby a good feed that ends just before you leave for work; and then breastfeed your baby again as soon as you get home. Co-ordinate this well with your baby’s caregiver so that they don’t bottle-feed just before you get home. If you are breastfeeding a baby older than six months of age, make sure your caregiver doesn’t provide late afternoon snacks so that your child is ready for a good breastfeed when you get home from work.
- Be patient and resilient. Our modern world doesn’t necessarily make breastfeeding easy, natural and stress-free. However, the science is clear, the more you can; the better for you, your baby and our society at large.