Let’s Make Breastfeeding & Work, Work!

Towards more job productivity among mothers who work

A recent breastfeeding campaign revealed what it takes for employers to help working mothers to be more productive at work.

After my maternity leave ended, I took a month unpaid leave so I could continue breastfeeding my daughter,” recalls 36-year-old Agnes Fernandes. “I would have liked to continue breastfeeding even after going back to the office.”

However, things didn’t work out for Agnes, who works in publishing.

“My supervisor was supportive, but there wasn’t anywhere suitable to express my milk,” she says. “The  places available were only the toilet and storeroom. As we have an open-plan seating, I couldn’t even borrow someone’s office room.”

Like Agnes, many working mothers face a myriad challenges to breastfeeding once back at work. Recently, in conjunction with World Breastfeeding Week in August, MyNutriBaby (MNB), a community education programme by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), launched a campaign to find out about what breastfeeding challenges working mothers face.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies should be breastfed exclusively for six months, and that breastfeeding should continue until the child is two years old. However, through the poll, we found that 54.9% of the mothers stopped breastfeeding less than 6 months after returning to work. “Approximately 24% of poll respondents cited unsuitable facilities and environment at work as the main reason for discontinuing breastfeeding,” says Dr Tan Sue Yee, a nutritional expert at the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM).

“Problems like reduced milk supply, mother being unable to cope and baby not wanting to feed can all be traced back to an unsuitable office environment. It’s all inter-related,” she added.

“When mothers aren’t able to express milk regularly at the workplace, milk production will decrease. Being unable to cope with job stress will also negatively affect milk supply. When there is less milk, baby might be less eager to feed. Baby might also react to Mum being away for long hours,” explained Fatimah Salim, also a nutritionist-cum-lactation expert with NSM.

It’s heartening to note that there seems to be companies that are meeting the needs of these working mothers. Those responding to the poll listed a ‘clean and private place” to express milk, a fridge, “clean and safe” water source, flexible working hours and regular breaks, and support and understanding from bosses and colleagues as some of the benefits they enjoyed at their places of employment.

Sarah Cheong, a journalist, is one mother who managed to breastfeed her baby until his third birthday.

“I’m very fortunate because my boss breastfed her children and was enthusiastic about me doing the same,” says Sarah, 30.

Her editor offered Sarah the use of her office as a private place to express her milk.

“She even had a mini fridge where I could keep the milk,” continues Sarah.

Dr Tan praises companies like Philips Avent and Digi as those with good facilities for working breastfeeding mums.

At Philips, for example, they want to help mothers give their babies the best start in life.

“We provide mothers-to-be with a ‘We support you’ info pack before they go on maternity leave, and also present new parents with a Welcome Baby gift set of Philips AVENT products, including a breast pump. ”

“We create a ‘home environment’ with a relaxed ambience and practical equipment,” explains Muhammad Ali Jaleel, Philips Group (Malaysia) country manager, adding that the company aims to help staff continue to breastfeed “for as long as they want to”.

Digi is another company that strives to do its best for its breastfeeding employees.

“We believe it is important to empower working mothers by helping them balance their career and their role as mothers, by offering the relevant support and facilities at our workplace,” says Orsolya Sekerka, Digi chief information officer.

“In January 2016, we will also be implementing a 6-month paid maternity leave policy to ensure that Digi not only continues to be an attractive place to work, but also where women can build careers and continue to fill the ranks of our leadership while supporting their families”, she also added.

As Dr Tan stresses, “In nutrition education we say that to sustain someone’s behaviour, it is not enough to give emotional support through motivation, but to also provide the right environment for it.”

It is hoped that employers will be inspired by the poll to provide working mothers with the environment and facilities they need to continue breastfeeding as such measures will not only increase productivity and staff loyalty, but also discourage absenteeism and employee turnover. Most importantly, employers will be playing their part in preserving and enhancing the health of mothers and their babies.

If employers require advice on creating breastfeeding-friendly workplaces, they can contact MNB. Just visit or email for more details.