In line with global and national efforts to promote breastfeeding-friendly workplaces, a dedicated breastfeeding room was launched on Tuesday, 31 July, at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
Thanks to the combined efforts of hospital management and the Children’s Hospital Trust, the women now have a hygienic, comfortable facility in which to breastfeed or express milk, and a fridge for storing the milk safely.
The breastfeeding room has been championed by the Child Health Advocacy Committee of the UCT Department of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Lori Lake, co-chair of the Advocacy Committee, said, “About two years ago we hosted a clinical lecture where we were focusing on breastfeeding, and the room erupted with working mothers who were describing their experiences of trying to breastfeed in broom cupboards and in toilets and expressing a great deal of anger and frustration.
“Working mothers ... were describing their experiences of trying to breastfeed in broom cupboards and in toilets and expressing a great deal of anger and frustration.”
“Out of that process we’ve been working with the hospital and pushing for the development of a breastfeeding room that provides a space for women to breastfeed in privacy, in dignity, and in a clean and healthy environment.”
Mother and child health
She added, “There’s a lot of work that has been done around this globally, and locally the National Department of Health is focusing attention on the first 1 000 days of life and looking at creating mother and child friendly facilities.”
Investing in breastfeeding is the most effective single intervention in reducing child mortality, according to the 2016 Lancet Breastfeeding Series.
Breast milk contains a powerful combination of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antibodies specifically tailored to meet an infant’s changing nutritional needs. Yet very few mothers in South Africa exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life. These low exclusive breastfeeding rates contribute to the high prevalence of malnutrition, diarrhoea, pneumonia and under-five mortality in South Africa.
“The breastfeeding room is another key part of the broader strategy to promote mother and child health,” said Lake.
“The breastfeeding room is another key part of the broader strategy to promote mother and child health.”
A breastfeeding-friendly policy
The launch of the facility at the hospital is significant as it encourages the recognition that all workplaces should be mother and child friendly, said Lake.
“This is very often a blind spot in terms of company policies. Women have to navigate the return to work on their own, with very little institutional support and, very often, little awareness of their entitlements,” she said.
“We are hoping that it will serve as an inspiration and as a stimulus for other departments at UCT to establish similar spaces for women, for the university to develop a breastfeeding-friendly policy, and for the same kind of initiative to be taken up by government, other businesses and trade unions. So that all working women who wish to continue breastfeeding their children are given adequate support, so that their children can have the best possible start in life.”
Support at home
The next goal of the Advocacy Committee is to gain greater investment in community health workers who can provide counselling and support to mothers in their homes.
“What we know is that, in South Africa, by far the majority of women initiate breastfeeding before they leave the hospital, but there are a number of critical points once they return home when they need additional support and guidance and, equally, planning ahead for the return to work.”
The committee will also be looking at the role of men in mother and child health. Fathers and other family members can help to ensure that women feel more supported and less stressed within the home environment.
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