Windhoek mayor Sade Gawanas is advocating for exclusive breastfeeding space for working mothers, and initiating a baby corner at the City of Windhoek.
Gawanas, who has been on maternity leave for a few weeks, welcomed her second baby girl Cairo Dantani da Conceicao into the world on 16 February 2022.
She told New Era yesterday that mothers need to be allowed to be able to breastfeed their babies at the office, until such time that they feel the babies are ready for solids.
“I am advocating for exclusive breastfeeding for working mothers. I feel that we are forced to leave our babies with nannies at home at two months, affecting us emotionally, psychologically and mentally. The baby corner will allow mothers at the office to be at work and breastfeed in the baby corner section, where their nannies can take care of the infants,” she explained.
Exclusive breastfeeding is of utmost importance as it provides all the nutrients which the baby needs, as well as fewer infections and illnesses, and is cheaper than formula milk.
The health ministry has a national policy on infant and young child-feeding to ensure compliance with the maternity leave laws of Namibia, and to promote the establishment of baby and mother-friendly corners in workplaces to ensure that children up to six months of age are exclusively breastfed.
The policy was drafted in 1992 and reviewed in November 2003, and will also identify research needs; undertake research and disseminate findings related to infant and young child-feeding; and ensure the allocation of financial resources for infant and young child-feeding in all sectors.
The National Policy on Infant and Young Child-Feeding serves to guide infant and young child-feeding in light of current information on mother-to-child transmission of HIV (MTCT).
The policy also ensures that babies whose mothers are HIV positive or who are unable to breastfeed for whatever reason are cared for and nourished to the best possible standards, and are protected from the disadvantages that arise from the inability to breastfeed.
The health ministry’s executive director Ben Nangombe said there are strategies implemented under that policy such as creating the Baby and Mother-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which was implemented since 1992, and the creation of baby-mother friendly corners in workplaces.
“Since then, the health ministry has been promoting the early initiation of breastfeeding. Over 90% of babies initiate breastfeeding within 30 minutes of birth, which is one of the routinely monitored and reported indicators. The ministry has also been promoting baby and mother-friendly corners in workplaces. The policy is still in force. However, implementation varies from institution to institution. Some workplaces are challenging in terms of space and safety. But the ministry is available should institutions need guidance in terms of setting up these baby-mother friendly corners,” he explained.
Nangombe added that although some institutions have put this policy into practice, there has not been routine monitoring of its implementation at workplaces.
“Some workplaces also allow mothers time and space to express breastmilk for later use. This will enable the baby to access the breastmilk even when the mother is at work,” he said.
The ministry is furthermore working on the Code of Marketing for Breastmilk Substitutes and Regulations of breastfeeding practices and ensuring babies are adequately breastfed.
With breastfeeding becoming more popular over the years, some public institutions have existing internal arrangements to promote breastfeeding at work, and by giving flexible working hours to breastfeeding mothers.
The CEO of the Motor-Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund, Rosalia Martins-Hausiku, said the fund employs more women than men, who are also very productive. Hence, they have adjusted the maternity policy to accommodate the women.
“We should be the catalyst that supports women. We have been looking at our policy and to see how we can adjust them to support our women at the workplace. Hence, we decided that the first six months of a new mother returning to work after maternity leave, they should be given flexible hours for them to breastfeed. For example, work starts at 07h30, the new mother will start later than that. And they will also be given additional hours during lunchtime to go and breastfeed,” she added.
The defence ministry’s head of public relations, colonel Petrus Shilumbu, also confirmed that there is an internal arrangement in the ministry that allows the new mothers to go home and breastfeed their newborn babies.
“We had an internal arrangement that is done between immediate commanders and individuals to go and breastfeed their babies. The arrangement is that the mother goes home at 10h00 and returns at 12h00. However, our people have misused and misinterpreted the arrangements, and most of them do not come back to work after that,” said Shilumbu.
The Namibian police’s spokesperson Kauna Shikwambi confirmed that they are also promoting breastfeeding by allowing mothers to go home early to breastfeed.
“We do not have a policy in place, but we have internal arrangements for our mothers, through the immediate supervisors. They have their maternal leave, but when they come back, they still have provision to go and breastfeed their little ones,” she said.
However, she feels the baby corner could be better, but it is an individual choice as it is filled with inconveniences and can also be a health hazard, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic time.
Another institution that has employed a lot of women is the correctional service, which indicated that it faced a challenge of young mothers who are required to guard the facility at night while they are breastfeeding.
Commissioner general Raphael Hamunyela indicated that interim arrangements are in place to accommodate breastfeeding mothers.
“We do not have a policy or a baby corner at work, but we made a special arrangement for the officers who are on night shift to work during the day and knock off early to enable them to go and breastfeed their babies. We work complicated shifts, and we made certain arrangements to accommodate them. We also proposed some additional hours during lunch, but they refused it on the basis of resources. They are saying it is costly to go home to breastfeed and come back to work. Hence, arrangements were done for them to knock off early,” explained the commissioner general.
Namibian mothers are entitled to three months of paid maternity leave. However, Gawanas will be back in the mayor’s chair next week.