Creating healthy and safe childcare environments to support the growth and needs of our young population and working mothers is possibly the greatest challenge facing the design industry today. The Covid-19 pandemic made that clearer than ever. Breastfeeding is an integral component of childcare. The benefits to mothers and infants of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continuous breastfeeding for up to two years is widely promoted by the World Health Organization. Yet, the reality for many working mothers in Africa is a dire lack of decent breastfeeding facilities in their workplaces.
In Kenya, the Health Act of 2017 and the Ministry of Health’s Guidelines on the Establishment of Breastfeeding Friendly Environment at the Workplace (2018) provide the framework for the establishment of decent lactation facilities at workplaces. They clearly define the stakeholders, the environment, and the benefits to the women, family, employers, and society as a whole. Unfortunately, the level of implementation of these frameworks remains quite low. This deprives millions of women, especially low-income women - including young school-going mothers and women working in the informal sector - of their crucial social-economic development opportunity. There is therefore an urgent need for shared responsibility and collaborative efforts to promote breastfeeding by accelerating the establishment of safe and quality breastfeeding facilities in all workplaces.
In Kenya, the Health Act of 2017 and the Ministry of Health’s Guidelines on the Establishment of Breastfeeding Friendly Environment at the Workplace (2018) provide the framework for the establishment of decent lactation facilities at workplaces. They clearly define the stakeholders, the environment, and the benefits to the women, families, employers, and society as a whole. Unfortunately, the level of implementation of these frameworks remains quite low. This deprives millions of women, especially low-income women - including young school-going mothers and women working in the informal sector - of their crucial social economic development opportunity. There is therefore urgent need for shared responsibility and collaborative efforts to promote breastfeeding by accelerating the establishment of safe and quality breastfeeding facilities in all work places.
Why it matters to construct NYONYESHA hubs:
The World Bank estimates that 350 million children do not have access to child care services. Nearly 8 out of 10 of these children live in low or lower middle-income countries. A key barrier for the working poor to access child care services is a lack of provision in places where workers live and work.
Each year, about 1 million children are born in Kenya. Despite the growing demand for systems to care for children, so that their mothers and other family members can work and support their families, Kenya has a very weak childcare support system and COVID has stretched this system to a breaking point. In Kenya, the majority (52%) of working women resume work within three months after birth contributing to a rapid decrease in breastfeeding rates - hence the need to create a conducive work environment for women to successfully combine work with breastfeeding. According to a 2016 survey by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Kenya recorded 378,397 adolescent and teenage pregnancies for girls aged 10-19 years between July 2016 and June 2017. The Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS)
2014 found that one in every five girls between 15-19 years has begun childbearing while close to 13,000 teenage girls drop out of school every year due to pregnancy (KDHS 2014). The situation is alarming in some counties. KDHS 2014 report further indicated that 4 out of 10 girls in Narok County got pregnant at a tender age. Other counties that have been put in the spotlight over teenage pregnancies include Homa Bay (33%), Kitui (36%), West Pokot (29%) Tana River (28%), Nyamira (28%), Samburu (26%), Migori (24%), Kwale (24%) and Nairobi (21%). Teen pregnancies, coupled with a lack of childcare facilities deprive these girls of their crucial social-economic development opportunities. It also exposes their children to major health risks.
The following are extracts of sentiments of individuals from different studies on the challenges of breastfeeding mothers in Africa:
- We do not have a breastfeeding room, I have seen my colleague express in the toilet, so over time it is not very comfortable… you end up giving up”. (An employed working mother, Nairobi)
- I felt it will be weird (expressing breast milk in the server room)… then also how to store it. I used to keep it in the car but I used to get worried about what if it spoils in the car. (A working middle mother, Nairobi)
- The market is not a safe place for the children; some of the customers don’t like wearing masks and we don’t have enough water.” (Market trader, Durban)
- My major challenge is the inability to give the best of care to the child. I wished I could stay at home to care for him to such a time that I can leave him in some other’s care but I cannot because of the need to make income. At this time with this pandemic, the best way was to stay at home to care for him to prevent the virus, but I cannot and have to bring him along to the market.” (Street vendor, Accra)
These sentiments are a clear testament that the children, women and society as a whole are missing on the benefits of breastfeeding due to the unresponsiveness of the work environment to the needs of these women despite their being policy and regulations to support this cause.
Benefits of workplace support for breastfeeding through building ‘NYONYESHA hubs’:
When we invest in the lactation facilities, we’ll provide critically needed care, create critically needed jobs, and we’ll be a step closer to building an equitable economy that works for everyone.
- Breastfeeding will contribute to improved health of children: Breast milk is affordable, accessible, safe, nutritional and is served at the perfect temperature. Further, breast milk also reduces the child’s risk of getting eczema, asthma, ear infections, hospitalization due to lower respiratory tract infections, diarrhoeal diseases and sudden infant death syndrome. It also reduces a child’s lifetime risk of developing diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. It is estimated that 823,000 lives of children could be saved annually by scaling up breastfeeding.
- Breastfeeding will contribute to improved health of women: Benefits of breastfeeding to mothers include; prevention of breast cancer, improved birth spacing and reduction in a woman’s risk of diabetes and ovarian cancer. The scaling up of breastfeeding can prevent an estimated 20,000 breast cancer deaths every year.
- Nyonyesha hubs will promote environmental sustainability and climate change action. Breastfeeding provides a healthy, viable, non-polluting, non-resource intensive and sustainable and natural source of nutrition and sustenance. Design and construction of lactation facilities will integrate material reuse and other sustainable green building principles.
- Breastfeeding promotes decent employment for women: Establishing workplace lactation facilities removes constraints to work for women and girls by reducing unpaid care work and improving workplace childcare for both formal and informal workers.
Utumishi Co-op House, P.O Box 4892-00100, Nairobi