It is always said that it is easier said than done, and this is the story of the working mums in Ghana. We have good policies when it comes to breast feeding, but how well are these policies implemented. We preach and teach our clients to practice exclusive breastfeeding for six months, but the reality is that how many nurses and midwives are even able to do exclusive breastfeeding. You have barely 3 months to nurse your baby get well and go back to work. If you are fortunate and you haven’t exhausted your annual leave, you get approximately 18 to 36 working days to go back to work.
I recall my own experience after resuming from maternity leave. I remember I will get to work just 30 minutes late and that was even occasionally. My superior who knew I was a nursing mum will still ask why are you late? I will close late and get home after 6pm. My mum saw me as a beast, how could a mum do this to her young baby. No explanation was enough. Women who knew I was a midwife will stop me in the middle of the road and ask, how are you managing your baby? I will smile and tell them hypocritically, I expressed enough breast milk, but that wasn’t the reality. What kept running through my mind was how on earth will an institution that is supposed to support women through pregnancy, labor and delivery not create an environment that supports breastfeeding for their own staffs. Was my child expected to suffer due to staff shortage and bad policies? This is the situation most women go through in their various institutions.
After you resume work, another challenge resurfaces; can you still continue the exclusive breast feeding? Will you will be able to report at work an hour late and leave an hour earlier as required by the law? This is no joke at all. Most working mums do not continue exclusive breastfeeding since the system is not of supportive exclusive breastfeeding. There are no nursery in our institutions where workers can keep their babies and breastfeed them when necessary. At the same time staff strength may be poor in some institutions making employers turn a blind eye to nursing mums. In fact you are forced to close late. Your baby is left in the care of house helps, nannies and family where you cannot even guarantee the safety and care given to them. What employers forget is that to bring the best out of your workers, they need to give them some peace of mind. How efficient will a mum be if she has to close late, go through a hectic traffic before getting to her four months old baby at home?
Another worrying trend is for nursing mums whose children are still breastfeeding but are forced to take up extra duties or go for night duties at the detriment of their babies. I recall the story of a colleague midwife who was forced to start night duties immediately they knew her baby was a year old. She was barely pleading that her daughter is still breastfeeding and that if she came for night her child will cry throughout the night, but her plea was dismissed, she immediately started her annual leave so she could completely wean off her baby from breastfeeding. Yes this is the reality.
The least said about working mums who are casual workers, the better. They suffer terrible things but they have to keep quiet and bare it all alone. A cleaner told me about her experience of hiding her six week old baby in order to secure her job which was not even paying well. How will she in that circumstance practice exclusive breastfeeding and how efficient was she at work during this time.
As a country we need to look at these issues critically since there is a direct relationship between childhood nutrition and the health of an individual later in life. If we do not create the environment to support exclusive breastfeeding as well as support our nursing mums, it will affect the workforce and also increase disease burden in the country.
I personally do not support the idea of extending maternity leave from three to six months as proposed in the month’s earlier for now. It will only make employers refuse the services of women and there by becoming economically handicapped which will even make more women vulnerable. Creating an environment that will support working mums will go a long way to save the future leaders of this country and also improve productivity and efficiency among working mums.
Creating nursery’s in our public institutions will be a step in the right direction. Mums can take breaks to breast feed their babies and be psychologically sound knowing that their babies are in safe hands and just a step away from them. Policies should be implemented to protect working mums and their babies. Employers who do not adhere to laws and policies affecting working mothers should be sanctioned.
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