Editorial: Support working moms

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Sunday, August 10, 2014


HAVE Hollywood and “Glamour” just made it easier or harder for working mothers to breastfeed?

The September cover of US women’s magazine “Glamour” featured Hollywood actress Olivia Wilde nursing her three-month-old son. While Otis wears not even a diaper, his mother has a couture dress and branded shoes, scarf, earrings and ring.

Wilde said in interviews that she wanted to show “breastfeeding is the most natural thing,” explaining that when she actually nurses Otis, she isn’t glamorous at all. The cover concept was about showing how women remain “multi-faceted” even when undergoing changes like motherhood. Wilde said she was inspired by her mom, a “badass working mother.”

Baby-friendly

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August is “Breastfeeding Awareness Month” in the country. The continuing drive to educate and promote among the public the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding infants for the first six months and nursing even up to two years of age should also include a closer look at the implementation of lactation stations and lactation breaks in public and working places.

Republic Act (RA) 10028, also known as the “Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009,” extends the coverage of institutional support for breastfeeding in “non-health facilities, establishment or institution,” such as public and working places.

A “public place” includes schools, public transportation terminals, and shopping malls.

Many malls have lactation stations that meet the legal requirements of “private, clean, sanitary, and well-ventilated rooms or areas” where mothers can nurse, express their milk and store this, and wash up. In these RA 10028-compliant malls, the mothers often belong to the well-off strata.

However, in many public places patronized by the lower-income brackets, lactation stations are invariably non-existent or hardly conducive for the comfort and safety of mothers and infants. RA 10028 specifies that lactation stations “shall not be located in the toilet.”

Section 6 of RA 10028 enumerates the basic facilities of a lactation station: a lavatory for hand-washing, refrigeration or cooling facilities for storing expressed breastmilk, electrical outlets for breast pumps, comfortable seats and other items that meet the standards set by the Department of Health.

The absence or lack of these facilities in many public transport terminals discriminates against women and infants of lower-income groups. Unlike their well-off or better educated sisters, mothers of limited means are perceived as having fewer modesty hang-ups or less dependence on electrical breast pumps. Any corner will do for these nursing mothers.

The social stigma against premarital sex and unwed pregnancy also discourages students from nursing their infants in campus or expressing milk for them in between classes. While RA 10028 mandates lactation stations in schools as public places, culture prevails in imposing barriers in creating mother- and baby-friendly campuses.

Nursing havens

However, it is in the implementation of RA 10028 in the workplace that stricter monitoring is needed. In public places, mothers and their infants are usually passing through.

In contrast, a working mother spends at least eight hours at work, not including yet the time needed to commute to and from home and the office. She may be away from her infant for five or six days a week.

It is at the end of maternity leave that working mothers usually make the decision to stop breastfeeding or go for mixed feeding. A family or community support system is crucial for ensuring that the infant left at home receives expressed milk while its working mother is away.

This arrangement is strengthened when an employer creates a lactation station, grants lactation periods, and pursues a breastfeeding or lactation support program for its employees. RA 10028 mandates that nursing employees are given break intervals of no less than 40 minutes for an eight-hour working period to breastfeed or express milk. This lactation breaks are in addition to the regular time-off for meals. Such breaks are considered as compensable by law.

For Sally, a researcher and community organizer, her nongovernment organization (NGO) already lacked space for work, let alone a lactation station. What the office lacked in terms of facilities, it more than made up for a culture supportive of women, their families and career.

When it was not in use, mothers and their babies took over the NGO training room. A nook behind a book shelf provided privacy for nursing or expressing milk. Co-workers borrowed each other’s nursing capes, breast pumps and baby slings. Flexible hours allowed mothers to tend to their children while meeting the workload.

Sally counts herself as a “dairy queen” for exclusively breastfeeding her four children.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 11, 2014.

Opinion

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