Mothers returning to work following maternity leave have one very big consideration that consumes their thoughts, limits their movements and keeps them on a strict diet but this consideration is also one that is of very little consequence to employers and management – lactating rights at work.
Only this year, the prime minister of Malaysia recommended, in his budget speech, that it should be mandatory for all future office units to plan a space for crèches but, this is quite a leap away from creating an inclusive, safe and conducive environment for lactating mothers.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by Malaysia in 1995, upholds “the right of the child to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and access to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health” – yet, mothers in Malaysia would stop breastfeeding once they return to work, with the exception of a small number of mothers from families that are stable on a single salary who decide to quit their jobs instead.
According to the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding framework that was released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF in 2003, it was best to ensure that infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health which is then followed by breastfeeding and complementary foods for up to two years or older.
However, this was not the case for Malaysian mothers nursing their newborns as described in a 2011 study conducted on working mothers in the country. The study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal explored reasons for mothers giving-up breastfeeding and revealed that “working in the private sector was associated with a higher tendency to discontinue breastfeeding.”
In the same year, it was encouraging to hear of the Companies Commission of Malaysia’s (SSM) introduction of a special Best Business Practice Circular in collaboration with UNICEF that details out a guideline for a Nursing Mothers Programme in the workplace.
The well thought-out guidelines addresses the implementation of such a programme by employers and made a detail list of recommendations that range from work arrangements, access to a nursing room and what it should have, to security concerns, additional supplies and who would administer the nursing room.
While this initiative remains optional to employers, Malaysian mothers do not feed their babies breast milk exclusively, for six months.
According to sinarharian.com (Jan 2012) only 34.2 percent of Malaysian babies are breastfed exclusively, for the minimum six-month international recommendation period.