Breast or Bottle? Moms Feeding Babies at Work 'Lack Basic Choice'

August 13, 2015
Editor: Kiki Liu

A post highlights the project of "10 Square Meters for Mother's Love." [China Women's News]

It is a tough decision that every nursing and working mom has to make: should they return to employment after maternity leave—usually three to four months—or stay at home to continue to breastfeed without financial support?

This year, China seeks to address the struggling issue during the World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) as the awareness-raising campaign "10 Square Meters of Love" is highlighted and boosted across the country.

Since it first published an initial animated clip of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in May 2013, the country has striven for a breakthrough in encouraging rates of breastfeeding to rise among new moms.

Breast Milk Boost

Thirty year ago, China used to be a country that embraced breastfeeding culture, even before the introduction of baby formula or milk powder and the changes in science and technology.

In the 1970s, breastfeeding-only rates in China saw a higher proportion. Some 80 percent were reaching the gold standard of feeding babies breast milk exclusively for the first six months of newborns' lives. Today the figure remains at or even stands below just 28 percent, far from the global average of 38 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

In some cities, it has even dropped to 17 percent due to the lack of private and safe rooms available for the increasing number of mothers who want to leave their home to work or meet their friends.

Globally, the worrying trend has puzzled many countries, because of the sharp decline rate of breastfeeding overseas as well.

Taking the UK as an example, the number of mothers breastfeeding-only accounted for 12 percent for the first four months, in 2010. Those exclusively feeding their babies breast milk till six months was only about 1 percent.

To rekindle China's habit for breastfeeding, UNICEF, together with China's National Center for Women's and Children's Health at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, launched the "10 Square Meters of Love" campaign in 2013 after scientific research proved that "breast is best."

Findings imply there is no better food or nutrition for the first six months of an infant's life than breastfeeding whilst both accounting for the child's health and the mother's recovery.

Originally, the initiative aimed to raise the falling breastfeeding rate and reverse the anti-social behavior of abandoning breast milk. It did so by providing mothers with a breastfeeding room or establishing a small public room in working buildings designated for nursing mothers.

Later on, the campaign showed its momentum and significance as more and more mothers returned to work after a short maternity leave. Not only does it provide a public space where mothers can breastfeed their children, but the scheme has also proved to be a suitable one equipping mothers with breastfeeding and children care facility, far from embarrassed crowds, toilets and smoking lounges.

Different Efforts, Same Effect

"Half of our employees are women, among which six are nursing mothers, including myself. Thanks to our company, we have been granted with a room prepared for children's care and breastfeeding. In addition, our staff could enjoy a family reunion day. On that day, our family members can bring our children to the company to experience the working atmosphere and have a timely breastfeeding session at the nursing room," said Dandan, a female employee at a financing management company based in Beijing.

Chen Jiandong, who is in charge of news website gmw.cn, indicated that they had also set up a room for breastfeeding, where female employees could not only breastfeed their children directly but also save breast milk in the fridge for later use.

"To safeguard women's rights and interests, our company is responsible for offering the special room that only occupies less than 10 square meters," implied Chen.

Long Way to Go?

Not all working mothers are so lucky as Dandan.

"As for our female teachers, we don't have a place to store our milk, let alone suckle our infants in private," complained Zhang, a young mother who also works in Beijing.

Another mother surnamed Xiao who works at a local branch of a bank showed great admiration for her colleagues at the general headquarters because of the lactation room there: "we only bring our bottle to pump milk, instead of enjoying a private and safe room."

It seems a common issue for the world mothering.

Lactation rooms are irreplaceable even though people take the bathroom and smoking lounges into consideration.

Some U.S. mothers have even retorted: "Why would you expect a mother to breastfeed or bottle her baby in a public restroom in which you were reluctant to prepare your child a sandwich?"

That much seems reasonable.

In 2007, a state law implemented by Oregon in the U.S. stipulated that non-bathroom lactation rooms should be available for any company with more than twenty-five employees.

"We just want a clean room for breastfeeding," appealed Zhang.

(Source: China Women's News/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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