Workplace wellness - Nestle Jamaica leading the way in support of breastfeeding moms on the job
Like a number of working mothers in Jamaica, Terri-Ann Forrester-Palmer had to pump breast milk in the bathroom at her workplace to ensure her firstborn was properly fed in 2007.
"I had her during university and I decided that I was going to get a job to be able to take care of my child and to be a support for her. I started the job and I don't remember how long I stayed, but I stayed less than two months because she only took breast and it was quite challenging for me to be pumping while at the workplace," said the human resource specialist who was working in customer service at the time.
"When I actually got the time, there was no room. I had to use the restroom to be pumping, and as you know, that is one of the places that you don't feel comfortable because you are literally in a stall, and the second thing is that this is not a place that is hygienic. You are pumping milk to give to your newborn which is something that I really did not like. I tried it for six weeks and I was fed up," Forrester-Palmer told The Sunday Gleaner.
Eleven years later and the practice of expressing milk in a bathroom stall still continues for several Jamaican mothers, but as Forrester-Palmer prepares for her second child, she is relieved that she will have a more hygienic and comfortable location to pump her breast milk.
This is because the management of Nestle Jamaica Limited, where she works, has established a lactation room for the benefit of mothers and babies.
"It is quite vital for babies to be breastfed up to six months and then try to continue until they are probably two years. It gives me comfort knowing that Nestle has such a facility, because not only is it something that is clean, hygienic and comfortable, it gives you peace of mind," said Forrester-Palmer who is now seven months pregnant.
The lactation room was established at Nestle in 2015 and comprises a fridge, a reclining chair and a private locker where women can store their breast pumps and sanitising equipment. Human resources business partner at Nestle Jamaica Limited, David Heath, said the lactation room is part of its diversity programme.
"A part of that is gender balancing where we try to have as many females and males as possible working within the environment. So in order to ensure that we can attract females and create that culture where people would be highly motivated to work, we offer, for example, flexitime, so that they can move their schedule upward or backward, depending on if they need to pick up their kids at school or if they are attending classes," said Heath.
He said the company does understand the challenges some women have in expressing milk and wanted to create a comfortable space for mothers of newborn.
Gender advocate and co-founder of the Women Resource and Outreach Centre, Linnette Vassell, believes initiatives such as the one taken by Nestle are an important mark of corporate social responsibility.
She argued that providing spaces for women to express the milk is part of a larger objective of promoting respectful maternity care and will enhance the health prospects of families.
"It really rests on the corporate movers and shakers, the human resource people in particular, understanding what happens when women have their babies and how, for example, a lot of women, when their breast are engorged, it is very painful to express. It affects their productivity, they are preoccupied with it leaking on their clothing and all of that," said Vassell, who is an advocacy specialist for the EU-funded Partnership for the Promotion of Patients' Rights in Maternal, Neonatal and Infant Health Project.
She argued that companies should be encouraged to establish lactation rooms in the same way they are being encouraged to start exercise programmes.
"In most cases, what they are asking for is a little addition to the restroom situation, a fridge and time to express the milk so that they can take it home and leave it to feed the baby, because that is what everybody knows is best for the child and it really makes the mother more comfortable in the workplace.
"I think that the public-sector entities, the government entities in particular, should show the way for this," added Vassell.