by Flora Aduk
Breastfeeding and work: “Lets make it work”, that was the theme for last year’s World Breastfeeding week. After my maternity leave at the end of 2013, I was determined to make it work, like we all usually are. My son was three months old and I wanted to try and breastfeed exclusively until he was six months old as recommended by health experts.
According to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, World Health Organization and UNICEF, breastfeeding a baby in the first six months enhances healthy growth and development of a child. It guards them from lethal health problems and diseases such as neonatal jaundice, pneumonia, cholera, diarrhoea, respiratory tract diseases and many more that can lead to early death. The infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) in Uganda was last measured at 38 in 2015, according to the World Bank.
While in Uganda, breastfeeding practices are progressive, with 98 percent of mothers breastfeeding new borns, by age 4-5 months about 33 percent of children are already on foods other than breastmilk, water or juice. By six months, only around 10 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed. Working mothers are particularly challenged at breastfeeding when they go back to work after their maternity leave. As a mother in a fast-paced media industry I sought out to try and breastfeed as long as possible.
A breast pump was going to be my magic wand. And I was going to start early I told myself. And I did. I got my pump ready, in fact two, one manual one that I bought for about 30,000 shillings (about £6) and one electric one which was a gift from my sister Betty.
A month to the end of my maternity leave, I began my journey. I opted for midnight as the perfect time to express because then the baby was asleep. With a good movie I went about my business and managed to fill a milk bottle of 150mls usually. Having searched the internet about how to store breast milk appropriately, I started putting away all the milk I expressed. It helped quite a lot to have breast milk readily available for my son on the days I had to run errands and leave him with his nanny.
When my leave ended, I had quite a stock of breast milk in my freezer. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed until my son was six months old. Ordinarily in my society, working mothers supplement with formula and other foods when they go back to work, breastfeeding only in the evening when they get back home.
While this option usually works, I wanted to try to achieve the six months. I had many bottles of frozen milk so I felt safe. But not for too long. I had to keep the supply constant. This meant that I had to find time to express during office hours. One of my workmates had taken to pumping in the office so I figured I would survive. I bought an ice cooler, ice jelly, towels and all I needed. What I hadn’t thought about was where I was going to do this exercise that requires absolute peace of mind. My workmate had expressed her milk in a room adjacent to the ladies, and that just wasn’t ideal.
But without options, as is the case in many work places in Uganda, what was a mother to do? I decided my car would have to do. I made 1pm the ‘milking’ time as I could take an hour plus. The afternoon heat wave seemed to attack from all ends.
“Setting all my things in order was a daunting task. I was caught between positioning my breast pump whilst trying to shield myself from possible curious passersby near our parking lot”
It was tough to say the least. I hated each moment but I knew it was important to have this milk for my son. Once done with a 150ml bottle, I would carefully place it in a cooler that had ice gel blocks. I often left the office at 4pm which was three hours later. At home I expressed some more milk in the night and put it away in the freezer.
Later I discovered an empty office on my block and turned it into my expression room but the trouble of carrying my cooler around was just too much. As a working mother it is tough. I managed to sustain this for two months at least and I felt so proud of myself. I had breast fed my son exclusively for five months.
My experience made me seek audience with the Human Resources Manager. She offered a store room adjacent her office as alternative space for nursing mothers, but truth be told, it was just inconvenient especially since her office was blocks away and as a temporary solution just wouldn’t do for mothers. Today we have a male Human Resources Manager at my work place. I brought the topic up a year ago and he promised to set aside a room for mothers who want to express while at work, or must nurse their babies. Nothing has been set up yet.
Last year, the Ugandan Parliament opened up a breastfeeding facility on site to serve members of parliament and staff; becoming the first public institution to offer a breastfeeding facility. It comprises of a play area, kitchen, sleeping area, breastfeeding room and bathroom. It was reported to have cost 90 million shillings (about £20,500 then). The initiative is expected to encourage public institutions to adopt similar good practices and for employers in the private sector to invest in workplace breastfeeding programs and policies. This move was, however, met with some public criticism due to the fact it seemed to benefit politicians rather than empowering the common man.
Nevertheless, regardless of where the first facility was opened, breastfeeding is a crucial aspect of child development and matters that concern it need to be given a priority in our society. I believe that it will take legislation and serious enforcement to encourage the launch of nursing areas for mothers, as currently, it never seems to amount to more than good fodder for conversation in the work place.