Webinar on Supporting Innovations that Enable Working Women to Breastfeed
Inspired by the huge potential breastfeeding has to save children’s lives, Philips made a commitment to Every Woman Every Child in 2014 that pledged, among other things, to research and support breastfeeding practices for women in Africa. In partnership with Dr. Monk, Dr. Maarten van Herpen, Head of the Philips Africa Innovation Hub, shared the results of a new report that identifies the major barriers to breastfeeding among working mothers in Nairobi and Accra.
They interviewed more than 400 working mothers with children under two from three distinct socio-economic groups working in both the formal and informal sectors. While the women interviewed agreed that breastfeeding was best for their child, they all encountered significant barriers to breastfeeding, including limited early initiation of breastfeeding, especially in private hospitals; unsupportive work environments, including lack of expression rooms and low-quality daycare; limited access to breast milk expression technologies, including breast pumps and refrigeration; and impeding beliefs, such as the need to supplement breast milk with water.
The Philips report also includes a Breastfeeding Innovation Matrix that presents the innovations needed to reduce barriers to breastfeeding in four areas:
- Initiation of breastfeeding within one hour after birth
- Knowledge about breastfeeding
- Work and breastfeeding
- Encouraging continuation of breastfeeding
According to Dr. van Herpen, “With innovation we can empower mothers to achieve the breastfeeding rates they aspire to and give their children the best start in life.” The report and its accompanying video look in depth at the challenges working women encounter, as well as possibilities for innovation in supporting women to breastfeed. Evelyn Matiri from PATH Kenya and Felicity Okoku from the Wellbeing Foundation Africa welcomed the report and strongly endorsed the need for innovation to support working women in Africa to continue breastfeeding.
The webinar also highlighted work that companies are currently doing to support their breastfeeding employees. Dr. Lydia Campbell, Director of Wellbeing Services at IBM, spoke about IBM’s ground-breaking new milk delivery policy that enables its female employees to ship their milk home to their babies in a cooling mechanism provided by IBM. IBM covers all costs associated with milk expression equipment, shipping, and storing breast milk. IBM illustrates how companies can support their breastfeeding employees rather than leaving the burden exclusively on women. It is hoped that other companies will follow this innovative model. The program launches in the US in September with a larger global rollout expected.
Finally, France Begin, Senior Advisor, Infant and Young Child Nutrition at UNICEF supported a call for innovation across all aspects of breastfeeding support and stated that, “Women should not be the sole [person] responsible for breastfeeding. They need support from family, from the community, from society overall, and from the employer. It is everyone’s business.” Begin described UNICEF’s new Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative as a platform to drive uptake of more effective approaches to increasing breastfeeding rates.
As we look to September for the adoption of the updated Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is more important than ever to demand greater levels of investment from governments, employers, and other key actors in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding benefits everyone and societies should create a collective network of support that empowers women, including working women, to provide their children with the protection and health benefits that breastfeeding offers.