13 August 2011

Making Breastfeeding Possible for Working Moms

Chanthira Kankaew, a worker at Marigot jewellery factory, presents breastmilk which she expresses during the day. © UNICEF Thailand/2011/Athit Perawongmetha

Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya

SAMUT PRAKAN, Thailand - Every morning, Natnaree Kaewprakob breastfeeds her 14-month-old baby, Natthida, before going to work at a factory in Bangpu Industrial Estate in Samut Prakan province. During the day, she expresses her breast milk a few times and stores it to make sure that Natthida has enough to feed on the next day. And when she returns from work at night, she breastfeeds her little one again.

“I’m never too tired to breastfeed my child because I know the benefits of breastfeeding,” said Natnaree, who works at a jewellery factory Marigot. “Breast milk makes my child healthy. It is free. And breastfeeding creates a special bond between me and my baby.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast milk is the ideal nourishment for infants as it contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones and antioxidants that they need to grow and to ward off illnesses. The organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. No other food or liquid – not even water – is needed during this period. Women are recommended to continue breastfeeding with complementary food well into the second year and beyond.

UNICEF, together with its partners, has been working over the past several years to support, protect and promote breastfeeding in Thailand, both at the community and national level. We work to ensure that babies receive the best nourishment during the early stages of life so that they thrive throughout childhood.

Breastfeeding support and protection

“Breast milk is the best food for a baby,” said Pornthida Padthong, a UNICEF Thailand Communication Officer who works with the Public Health Ministry and other organisations to promote exclusive breastfeeding. “That is why we want to ensure that mothers can continue to breastfeed their children even after they return to work. Many mothers still misunderstand that infant formula is as good as breast milk, which is far from truth.”

UNICEF is supporting the setting up of breastfeeding corners at workplaces, the development of curriculum on the importance of breastfeeding for physicians and nurses, and monitoring and reporting on the unethical marketing of infant formula and related products by the breast milk substitute industry.  We are also advocating for the extension of paid maternity leave from three to six months to help ensure that mothers can continue to exclusively breastfeed and care for their children.

In 1981, the Thai government adopted the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (BMS Code) to protect and promote exclusive breastfeeding. The Code, which has been adopted by more than 180 countries, prohibits the advertisement or promotion of infant formulas, breast milk substitutes and bottles and teats to the general public or through the health care system.  Although all breastmilk substitute manufacturers and distributers have agreed to abide by the BMS Code, their marketing practices are routinely in violation of it. UNICEF is promoting the adoption of the BMS Code as a national law that would carry sanctions for violations of the code.

The government showed stronger commitment in promoting breastfeeding in 2009, when it launched a project to seek cooperation from business owners in establishing breastfeeding corners and nurseries for 2-6 year-olds within their establishments nationwide. The project is being supported by UNICEF and the Thai Breastfeeding Center.

Breast is best
The practice of breastfeeding has been on the decline in Thailand.   According to a UNICEF-supported survey conducted in 2006, 15 per cent of children in Thailand are never breastfed, and only 5.4 per cent have been exclusively breastfed during the first six months. This is the lowest breastfeeding rates in Asia and one of the lowest in the world.

“Breastfeeding guarantees a good foundation for the growth and the development of a child,” said Dr Yupayong Hangchaovanich of the Thai Breastfeeding Center, a non-governmental organisation that receives support from UNICEF. “In addition to ensuring development of crucial parts of their body like the brain and eyes, breast milk can prevent illnesses such as diarrhoea and respiratory infection, as well as allergies.”
The Thai Beastfeeding Center works to develop knowledge and techniques about breastfeeding, and supports mechanism to promote breastfeeding in the Thai society, including the setting up of breastfeeding corner at workplace.

So far, there are about 660 workplaces throughout the country which provide breastfeeding corners for employees, said Dr Yupayong.
Breastfeeding corners

The breastfeeding corner at Marigot is housed inside its nursing room. There are sofas for mothers to sit on when they express breast milk, a refrigerator to store it, and equipment used in expressing breast milk.

The cost for setting up a breastfeeding corner at workplace is around 15,000 baht, said Pairod Pumprasart, the company’s Senior Supervisor for Safety.
But what the company has gained is far outweighs the cost.

“Mothers take fewer days off because their breastfed babies who are so healthy that they rarely have to see the doctor,” said Kanikar Senmukda, Manager of Human Resources at Marigot. “When children are healthy, mothers can work more efficiently. And this is reflected in the quality of work and their productivity.”


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