Breastfeeding: The Horrifying Struggles of a Working Mother

#WorldBreastfeedingWeek - Breast is no doubt the best for the baby, but is it the working mother’s biggest quandary?

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Doctors say that breastfeeding is the best option for a baby if a mother can do it but working moms need to be supported to be able to do it. (Photo: iStock)

(August 1st to 7th is observed as the World Breastfeeding Week. We know that breast is the best, it’s the baby’s ‘first vaccine’ but it’s ridiculously hard for a new mother. It’s easier to force the burden of nurturing a baby on women alone, but breastfeeding is as much a mother’s responsibility as is society’s)

It’s too easy to force the burden of nurturing a child on women alone, to make breastfeeding their problem rather than society’s.)

Netflix’s announcement of unlimited time-off for parents during the first year after a child is born or adopted should jolt the archaic Indian maternity law which allows a meagre three months paid maternity leave to working mums.

Three months? Talk about realism!

The ultimate dilemma is that doctors recommend exclusive breast feeding for at-least six months, even more. Leaving a three month old baby and going back to work is a wrench!

Luckily for me, understanding employers and a great boss translated into an extended eight months maternity leave. But more than 30% working women have to drop out of work because breastfeeding comes in the way of work. (Source: ASSOCHAM)

There’s no debating the benefits of breast milk; from providing immunity, to antibodies, protection against major childhood infections, lowering the risk of diabetes, asthma, allergies, higher IQ and fatter salaries, breast milk has been proven to be the best for babies. (Photo: iStock)
There’s no debating the benefits of breast milk; from providing immunity, to antibodies, protection against major childhood infections, lowering the risk of diabetes, asthma, allergies, higher IQ and fatter salaries, breast milk has been proven to be the best for babies. (Photo: iStock)

India is one of the 170 countries observing the World Breastfeeding Week. The theme this year is, “Breastfeeding: The Key To Sustainable Development”. But breastfeeding isn’t just a woman’s job - at home or at work, a support structure is critical to make it happen.

Here’s a list of things that companies can do to make breastfeeding work at work:

Wanted: Pumping Rooms in Office

When I returned to work after an extended maternity leave, I was determined to continue nursing my son. According to the World Health Organisation, babies should be exclusively breastfed for six months, but nursing should continue till two years, adding, the longer babies are fed, the more they achieve in life.

But with no pumping rooms in Indian offices, it’s a battle against biology; a mother’s milk supply dwindles when away from the baby. The only way to keep it up is to express milk at the same times that the baby would normally feed, generally every three to four hours. Pumping one breast takes 20 minutes.

I’m elaborating on this because very rarely do people understand the mechanics of breastfeeding or pumping. Nobody ever discusses it honestly during school health courses or around the water cooler.

  • The Maternity Benefits Law under which Indian companies grant a 12 week maternity leave was made in 1961.
  • Infants must be exclusively breastfed for the first six months: W.H.O
  • 30% of women in India drop out of work after a baby: ASSOCHAM
  • India has the lowest percentage of working women in BRICS nations: World Bank
Pumping milk is a slow, laborious, secretive, low-tech, and difficult process for a measly few ounces of milk. Working mums will take all that pain if only companies provided a small, clean room with a table, a chair and a lock on the door. Too much to ask? (Photo: iStock)
Pumping milk is a slow, laborious, secretive, low-tech, and difficult process for a measly few ounces of milk. Working mums will take all that pain if only companies provided a small, clean room with a table, a chair and a lock on the door. Too much to ask? (Photo: iStock)

Pumping requires space and privacy. Indian offices don’t have that concept. It’s nothing luxurious. A recliner would be a dream, but a basic chair, a table to lay out the parts of the pump, a sink to wash them and a refrigerator to store the milk, might just make a short maternity leave doable.

Pumping in washrooms, no matter how clean they are, is plain gross. Breast milk is the baby’s food. Given a choice, will you ever have your lunch in there?

Related Read: So I Failed to Breastfeed, Crucify Me!

Revisit the 1961 Maternity Benefits Law

Many women have to either begin weaning their babies or go on reduced or no pay to stay at home for six months. (Photo: iStock)
Many women have to either begin weaning their babies or go on reduced or no pay to stay at home for six months. (Photo: iStock)

Most European countries offer a mandatory six month paid maternity leave and job guarantee. The 12 weeks maternity law in India, like many other ancient laws needs to be scrapped. It was made in 1961 when less than 9% of women were literate, jobs were relaxed and cushy, maternity leave benefits were rarely availed. Cut to 2015, most women fight the hormonal haze of motherhood to return to work, but 12 weeks is a bit too soon.

According to a 2013 World Bank study, only 27% of the female population in India is working. A third of these drop out post motherhood. This is the lowest rate of women’s participation in any workforce among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries, with the highest in China at 64%.

It’s too easy to force the burden of nurturing a child on women alone, to make breastfeeding their problem rather than society’s. Critics would say mandating lactation rooms or reviewing the maternity benefits is an unnecessary government intervention. I imagine they would feel differently stepping on an elevator that hasn’t been inspected in 54 years.

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