Juggling a work schedule with breastfeeding can be tricky for working mothers Image Credit: Getty

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Philips AVENT’s Mommy’s Expressing Lounge Initiative aims to help mothers returning to work express their milk with confidence and in privacy

To breastfeed – or not – is a personal choice for any new mother. However, the truths about breastfeeding, and returning to work as a nursing mother pose some real challenges for women.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with complementary foods until at least 12 months of age. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also recommends the same.

Breast milk provides the essential nutrients, as well as antibodies to protect newborns against infectious diseases and has shown to lower rates of childhood obesity and sudden infant death syndrome. For mothers, breastfeeding leads to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.

To feed a newborn and establish a milk supply, a mother needs to express milk as often as every two to three hours, and although that frequency eases as her baby grows, most women still need to pump at least twice in an average work day. Skipping is not only physically uncomfortable, it carries the risk of complications like blocked ducts or mastitis.

Support at workplaces

Although organisations don’t lawfully have to arrange the space for women to pump milk at work, many companies know that providing this is not only considerate, but also a smart move to increase morale and ensure productivity among new mothers. Article 31 of the UAE Labour Law states that a working woman nursing her baby is entitled to two additional 30-minute breaks every day for 18 months after the birth of her baby. The breaks are part of her working hours and no deduction in wages can be made.

Philips AVENT, the company’s Mother and Childcare brand, has launched a Mommy’s Expressing Lounge Initiative to encourage employers to become more baby-friendly by implementing a space for breastfeeding mothers returning to work. The initiative is part of its commitment to improve the lives of three billion people by 2025, and Philips’ commitment to the Every Women Every Child UN initiative.

Being a working mum I’ve understood the challenges faced when returning to work after giving birth and I believe in the holiness of breastfeeding.

- Elvan Ozkal, Personal Health Market Leader - Middle East and Turkey, Philips

Elvan Ozkal, Personal Health Market Leader - Middle East and Turkey, Philips, says, “Being a working mum I’ve understood the challenges faced when returning to work after giving birth and I believe in the holiness of breastfeeding. By launching the Mommy’s Expressing Lounge Initiative we are aiming to support mothers returning to the workforce, providing a space for mothers to breast pump – hygienically and comfortably – which in turn will aim to improve the mother’s work-life balance. With this project, we are very proud to make lives better.”

Philips AVENT’s ambition is to provide companies in the Middle East the support they need to create a breastfeeding-friendly workplace.

- Chris Watts, Marketing Manager – Mother and Childcare, Philips Middle East

“Philips AVENT’s ambition is to provide companies in the Middle East the support they need to create a breastfeeding-friendly workplace,” says Chris Watts, Marketing Manager – Mother and Childcare, Philips Middle East. “We understand the importance breastfeeding and breast milk plays in the baby’s development and how difficult it can be to express or pump for mothers returning to work.”

Philips Avent provides a cosy space at its Dubai office for back-to-work mothers Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman

As part of the Mommy’s Expressing Lounge Initiative, Philips encourages corporate offices to sign up for a partnership programme where Philips can help design ideal expressing spaces and extend their support to new mothers. “Philips Avent have proudly implemented over 150 corporate expressing rooms in the Middle East and Turkey, supporting out more than 8,000 women and we strive to provide support to many more,” says Watts.

In the UAE, the company provides a cosy space at its Dubai office for back-to-work mothers. The Philips AVENT expressing room has everything breastfeeding mum needs: electric pumps, electronic steriliser, disposable breast pads, storage cups, and a fridge to store the milk.

Tips to design expressing spaces Image Credit: Illustration: Pranith Ratheesan

Problems of working mums

For Dana Sidani, Regional Customer and eBusiness Manager, Nestlé Middle East, who returned to work when her daughter was four months old, the most challenging thing was to maintain milk supply and ensure that there was enough milk at home so she could feed her daughter.

With the 100 per cent implementation of comfort rooms at our offices and factories, it has become much easier for working women, like me, at Nestlé Middle East to express milk and ensure clean storage when we return to the workplace.

- Dana Sidani, Regional Customer and eBusiness Manager, Nestlé Middle East

Luckily for Sidani, her employer Nestlé supports breastfeeding women. “With the 100 per cent implementation of comfort rooms at our offices and factories, it has become much easier for working women, like me, at Nestlé Middle East to express milk and ensure clean storage when we return to the workplace,” she says. “I think people don’t know how difficult it is as breastfeeding is not easy and without the right support from both family and at work it could be much harder. Today women are already putting a lot of pressure on themselves to be able to breastfeed as long as possible so that in itself affects the milk supply. Having that support at work along with flexible working hours to spend quality and quantity time with our babies makes all the difference.”

Nestlé Middle East has 100 per cent implementation of comfort rooms at its offices and factories Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman

Life is often a juggling act for working mothers, who have to take care of the baby, run the household and then meet all the demands of their career.

It is difficult, especially being in sales, so keeping a routine was a challenge. A special designated room made things so much easier.

- Mehak Taneja, Relationship Manager, Gulf News - Publishing Sales

Mehak Taneja, Relationship Manager, Gulf News - Publishing Sales, agrees with the difficulties faced by breastfeeding mothers. Taneja took no time off during pregnancy, saved her leave and used it all after giving birth to her baby. Finding a suitable childcare centre was also a daunting task for the first time mum.

Gulf News has a special room for nursing mothers Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque

“I came back after about 90 days,” she says. “I had to make sure my daughter Kiyara feels relaxed, her routine is in place while I’m away at work and also that she takes on well to new people. I’m grateful it all worked out very well as we literally were lost until a day before I got back to work.”

Returning to work early can disrupt a breastfeeding relationship, but Taneja had to make it work and having a designated space in the office helped her to a great extent. “It is difficult, especially being in sales, so keeping a routine was a challenge. A special designated room made things so much easier.”

Employers play a big role

While the government has laid down provisions relating to the working hours and conditions of women, many companies still need to do more to accommodate breastfeeding mums.

Sidani’s company Nestlé takes its commitment to diversity and inclusion seriously. Nestlé has enhanced the Maternity Leave for its employees, which is now up to six months, along with one month working from home or abroad prior to the delivery. “We promote exclusive breastfeeding for children in line with the WHO guidelines and in addition to the comfort room and comfort packs, we also offer paternity and maternity benefits, flexible working hours, and set clear career planning for returning moms to help them get back to work without being overwhelmed,” says Sidani.

“Even comfort packs to help ease the mum back to the working environment all play a major role.”

If your company would like to sign up for the corporate expressing room partnership program, simply email expressinglounge@philips.com or visit the Philips AVENT UAE Facebook page.