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Nursing friendly workplace: How would it impact productivity?

There is no doubt that breastfeeding contributes to various benefits including increasing the baby’s cognitive development, lower diarrheal disease, and decrease respiratory problems among children. Breastfeeding also helps reduce the risk of postpartum depression and help mothers lose their pregnancy weight.

In 1993, the Malaysian National Breastfeeding Policy was formulated and later revised in 2015 based on the World Health Assembly Resolution 54.2. The amended version of the Malaysian Breastfeeding Policy states that all mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their children with breast milk from birth until 6 months old, continuing until 2 years of age.

The Malaysian government recognises the significance of lactation and infant nutrition, hence various strategies have been planned to support the National Breastfeeding Policy such as nutrition education, baby friendly hospital initiatives, social support in terms of facilities for breastfeeding mothers and training and counselling health professionals.

Unfortunately in Malaysia, there is no clear provision in law giving the right to working mothers or employees to breastfeed their babies in the workplace.  Realizing our support for more working mothers to breastfeed their babies and in preparing them to become physically healthy, emotionally secure and cognitively engaged future leaders, we outlined some guidance that employers may consider to provide a conducive and more nursing-friendly workplace for the mothers.

Would providing a nursing friendly workplace impact productivity?

Having a happy workforce, will definitely increase your employees’ productivity, and this will eventually help your business grow. It only takes a few small changes to make a difference including providing the right tools and equipments, removing distraction and reducing stress as well as providing a conducive working environment.

Now imagine having a team of new mothers who just returned to work after their maternity leave and wish to continue breastfeeding their children. “How can you concentrate on your work when your breasts are engorged?” emphasised Prof. Dr. Norimah A. Karim, a professor in Nutrition, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, from the International Medical University who is also one of the Medical Advisory Board members for Mama Net, a locally flourishing educational parenting App.

Employers who create better environments for breastfeeding have shown to  perform better overall [1]. Over two studies that involved more than 100 women found positive experiences around the workplace where breastfeeding and pumping resulted in women better meeting their goals for both work and breastfeeding [2].

Mothers who receive warm welcome, including having a supportive environment by their employers acknowledged that their morale get boosted, and feel encouraged to be  loyal towards the organisation.


Guidelines to create a nursing friendly workplace

Many working mothers face myriad challenges to breastfeeding once back at work.  The most  challenging  is the unsuitable facilities and environment at work as the main reason for discontinuing breastfeeding.

Due to unsuitable office environments, mothers are not  able to express milk regularly at the workplace, hence causing the decrease in milk production. Plus, being unable to cope with job stress and motherhood challenges will also negatively affect the mothers’ milk supply. The reduction in milk supply might cause the baby to be less eager to feed. The baby might also react to the mother being away for long hours. “It’s an inter-related vicious cycle,” added Prof. Dr. Norimah.

Here we highlight some tips that employers can take into account to create breastfeeding friendly environment for the employees.

  • As a head start, employers can provide mothers-to-be with a ‘We support you’ info pack before they go on maternity leave, and also present new parents with a ‘Welcome Baby’ gift set of maternity products, such as a breast pump.
  • Create a ‘home environment’ with a relaxed ambience and practical equipments.
  • Provide a clean and private space (lactation rooms) other than a bathroom to express breast milk , free from intrusion by coworkers and the public, a fridge as well as clean and safe water source.
  • Offer flexible working hours and regular breast pumping breaks plus support and understanding from bosses and colleagues.
  • Allow employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after giving birth.
  • Offer relevant support and facilities at the workplace.
  • If possible, offer a 3-month paid maternity leave policy to become an organisation that is not just an attractive place to work, but also help women build their careers  and become leaders while supporting their families.

In a nutshell, emotional support and motivation alone is insufficient to sustain  exclusive breastfeeding. Providing the right environment and facilities they need will not only increase productivity and employees’ loyalty, but also discourage absenteeism and employee turnover. Most importantly, employers will be playing their part in preserving and enhancing the health of mothers and their babies.

References:

[1] R. Cohen, L. Lange, W. Slusser

A description of a male-focused breastfeeding promotion corporate lactation program

Journal of Human Lactation, 18 (1) (2002), pp. 61-65

[2] Y.K. Bai, S.M. Wunderlich, M. Weinstock

Employers’ readiness for the mother-friendly workplace: An elicitation study

Maternal and Child Nutrition, 8 (4) (2012), pp. 483-491

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