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Protect breastfeeding mothers in the workplace – PAHO

Published:Friday | August 2, 2019 | 12:06 AM

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is recommending that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean implement laws to ensure that working women are given the time and support they need to breastfeed. This includes adequate paid maternity leave and sufficient breastfeeding breaks upon their return to work.

The call comes on the occasion of International Breastfeeding Week, commemorated each year on August 1-7.

PAHO’s theme this year is ‘Protect Breastfeeding in the Workplace’, which aims to raise awareness of the need to support parents and create an enabling environment where mothers can breastfeed optimally.

In order to ensure that working mothers are adequately protected, PAHO is calling for countries to implement the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 183 and the Maternity Protection Recommendation, 2000 (R191) and to enshrine this in national law. This states that women should be given at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave and that governments should endeavour to extend this leave to at least 18 weeks. It also stipulates that working mothers should be provided with two 30-minute nursing breaks each day upon their return to work, as well as facilities for breastfeeding at or near the workplace.


“Maternity is a particularly vulnerable time for working women and their families,” said Dr Anselm Hennis, director of non-communicable diseases and mental health at PAHO. “It is vital that expectant and nursing mothers are protected by law so that they have adequate time to give birth, recover, and nurse their children.”

Hennis highlighted that paid maternity leave leads to increased duration of breastfeeding and improved health and well-being for both mother and child. Women who only receive short maternity leave (six weeks or less) are four times more likely to not establish breastfeeding or to stop breastfeeding early.

In the Americas, 54 per cent of children are breastfed within the first hour of life, and 38 per cent are breastfed exclusively until six months of age, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

Breastfeeding has a variety of benefits for both mother and child. For young children, it is designed to meet all of their nutritional and immunological needs. It protects against disease and death from diarrhoea and respiratory infections and reduces the risk of dental malocclusion, obesity, and diabetes.