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Lactation stations keep mums at the workplace

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

Before she left for her three months maternity leave in April last year, Caroline Anampiu, a finance Manager, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), was worried about how she would keep breastfeeding her baby after resuming work. The mother of three was keen on exclusively breastfeeding her baby for six months after doing so for her two older children. But pulling this feat for a working mother was no walk in the park.

For her two elder children, seven and five, Caroline had to go to significant lengths to continue breastfeeding them after returning to work. After the three months maternity leave, Caroline bought an electric pump and used  any free time she got to express milk and store it in a refrigerator in the office before rushing back to work.

For privacy, she took advantage of any free room and often had to pump the milk in a rush, afraid that someone would walk in on her. “It was not interesting at all.

Sometimes I would use the server room, which was mostly dusty, cold or hot and at a high risk of intrusion. Other days, I would request a colleague with whom we shared an office to step out so that I could do my thing,” she says.

At tea and lunch time, Caroline repeated the routine of eating, sneaking into unoccupied offices and risking embarrassing situations all in the quest to exclusively breastfeed her children. That was her experience at her previous workplace before moving to Kepsa four years ago.

Caroline feared that the experience would not be any different with her third born. When she returned to work in August, she was, however, pleasantly surprised to find out that the organisation had set up a lactation room to help nursing mothers like her.

“I felt so appreciated by my employer. For once, I did not have to worry too much about getting a clean, comfortable and private space to pump milk at work,” she says.

The small room of around four by two metres is equipped with a cabinet fitted with a refrigerator to preserve milk, a microwave, a sink to clean up and a mirror. The room also has a table and a chair. It’s only accessible to nursing mothers.

Introduction of lactation stations at the workplace is one of the measures outlined under the Health Act of 2017 to support breastfeeding for working mothers.

The Act requires that all employers establish lactation stations adequately equipped with facilities including hand-washing equipment, cooling facilities, electrical outlets, a small table and a comfortable chair for nursing mothers. Under the Act, employers are also required to give nursing employees regular times off for meals, to breastfeed or to express milk.

“Besides complying with the Act, Kepsa, the apex body for private sector in Kenya has been lobbying its members to set up these stations. We are committed to setting good environment for mothers to exclusively breastfeed by setting lactation corners,” says Gloria Ndekei, Private Sector Advisor, Kepsa Foundation Trustees. So far,  35 companies under the body have set up lactation stations to support their women employees.

Such measures are making it possible for mothers to exclusively breastfeed for six months as recommended by the World Health Organisation.  According to Nerea Ojanga, a lactation expert, Kenyatta National Hospital, breastfeeding exclusively has health benefits for the mother and baby.

Besides offering nutrition, breastfeeding boosts the immunity of a baby. It’s also the only form of food that babies can properly digest in the first six months,” says Nerea.

Mothers who do not breastfeed or pump milk regularly risk having a reduced supply of milk, thus cannot continue breastfeeding. For nursing mothers, breastfeeding works as a form of contraception. During breastfeeding, a hormone that suppresses ovulation is produced.

Companies that have introduced lactation stations have realised positive results. After Unilever Kenya started supporting nursing mothers by offering them flexi time and introducing lactation stations in 2016, there has been an increased retention of female employees.

“Conducive conditions for breastfeeding mothers have helped us achieve gender diversity at the workplace. Our female staff members are slightly below 50 per cent. When mothers have peace of mind, their productivity also improves.

Such measures bring more gains to the company compared to the cost incurred in providing the facilities,” says Mary Nyagi, Human Resource Manager, Unilever Kenya.  The World Breastfeeding Week, which started on August 1 up to yesterday, was marked across the globe under the theme breastfeeding the foundation of life to encourage breastfeeding.

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