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Taking Action to Ensure Breastfeeding Support for Women in the Workplace

La Leche League 18th International Conference
Strength through Diversity - Creating One Breastfeeding World
San Francisco, California, USA
July 3-6, 2003

Friday, July 4 - Session #104
Global Issues - Taking Action to Ensure Breastfeeding Support for Women in the Workplace

Presenters: Chris Mulford and Ines Fernandez
Facilitators: Mimi de Maza, Judy Canahuati, Elvira Esguerra and Janine Schooley

Chris Mulford touched on the need to consider all the different types of work women perform, such as being a mother, caring for others and for themselves, volunteering for their church, participating in their children's school activities, work for pay, etc. There are two ways to look at the work carried out by women: a narrow focus, such as national laws that protect women in the work place; and a broad focus, such as protecting women beyond the workplace.

What does Maternity Protection include:

  • Scope - what is covered by the law
  • Leave - how long can a mother take off from work; does it include the father
  • Benefits - does it cover medical expenses; how is it dispensed
  • Health protection - how safe is the job for the mother and baby
  • Job protection - is her job secure
  • Breastfeeding breaks - a time to express her milk, can she see her baby during her work day
  • Breastfeeding facilities - a place to express her milk, or an area to feed her baby

Mulford explained briefly the activities performed by the WABA Women and Work Task Force:

  • Maternity Protection Kit that will be available through ILCA, UNICEF, and WABA. It is designed to tackle advocacy for maternity protection and to ensure women know what their rights are.
  • Seed grants (500 to 2,000 dollars) are awarded to groups in developing countries that help women in the workplace. Some examples of seed grants:
    • Ghana: the main objectives of the project were to provide peer counseling services and to make the market place a baby-friendly environment
    • India: the project aimed to involve media in the subject of maternity protection
    • Indonesia: an assessment of the implementation of maternity protection in a shoe factory in Jakarta
    • Philippines: a project on educating/entertaining trade union workers about maternity protection

Before beginning her presentation, Ines Fernandez and the Pantomime Mums from the Philippines illustrated the topic through a mime performance that was extremely interesting. In her presentation, Fernandez used visual materials to illustrate how consumerism and the rise of impersonal mass-market stores are breaking down the community structure around families. She emphasized that now is the time to start working on bringing back the natural and innate resources needed to create an environment of support around the mother and child. She further illustrated the need for maternity protection given that without it long term problems will arise. Not only will it affect the health of future generations, but also interpersonal relationships. It can bring devastating effects on our human wealth and on our ability to use our human resources. It is a universal issue that needs to be addressed by everyone everywhere.

Following are the actions presented during the session:

A. Educating pre-teens and teenagers about breastfeeding and family life
Facilitated by Chris Mulford

Conducted a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) of pre-teens and teenagers who would be participants in a family life (sex education) program. The program would cover information on breastfeeding, parenting, and shared family responsibilities.


  • open-mindedness
  • energy
  • rebellious
  • changing
  • intelligent
  • questioning and information seeking
  • experimental
  • sense of humor
  • critical thinkers


  • insecurity
  • peer pressure
  • rebellious
  • idealistic and unrealistic
  • inexperienced
  • lack of exposure to other cultures
  • rapid physical changes
  • moodiness and hormones


  • change point of view
  • change career choices
  • raise awareness of human rights issues
  • enhance critical thinking
  • agents of change
  • breakdown biases
  • change expectations


  • male/female role controversy
  • mistrust of adults - questioning parental values/choices
  • religious/cultural clash - loss of idealism
  • identity crisis
  • embarrassment
  • lack of support for change of mind

After the analysis, the following actions were decided upon:

  • Develop a curriculum that takes into consideration the strengths, highlights the opportunities, and addresses the weaknesses and threats by incorporating them and turning them into opportunities.
  • Include a skit in the program.
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis with the students.

B. Unwaged work
Facilitated by Judy Canahuati

This group explored ideas about how to develop a plan to raise consciousness in society of the value of work carried out by women, and how to go about researching unwaged work.

Goal: Gain powerful allies who can propagate the idea that every mother is a working mother.

a) Identify and clarify common issues:

  • discrimination toward women
  • women are not being heard
  • women need to understand the value of their work
  • gaining respect in workplace and society
  • undocumented work of women and its worth to society

b) Conduct research on unwaged work and create a fact sheet:

  • Contact insurance companies
  • Explore the challenges that exist in developing countries

C. Promoting breastfeeding among undocumented workers
Facilitated by Elvira Esguerra

The following is an outline of how to reach out to undocumented workers. In this case it pertains to a situation in New York City, but it can be used in a variety of situations.

This action draws attention to the POWERLESS position of the undocumented worker who has no right to prenatal health care, health and breastfeeding education, maternity leave, and breastfeeding support in the workplace.

Target: LLL Leaders in New York City

Problem: Undocumented workers in urban environments without access to breastfeeding information and support


  • Partner with religious and community groups in communities with large populations of undocumented workers
  • Work with individual WIC offices and/or health care agencies in the area

In order to provide:

  • Printed materials in appropriate languages
  • On-site LLL meetings in appropriate languages and at appropriate times (evenings and weekends)
    • Promote LLL Peer Counseling Program within existing community

D. Maternity protection
Facilitated by Mimi de Maza

This group concentrated on making a list of the different places where women workers need better maternity protection, and proposing a set of actions to provide these women with better support in the workplace.

Worker protection list:

  • clinic workers (do not have a place to use a pump)
  • factory workers (no monitoring in place, in many countries the employers violate the few laws that do exist)
  • small businesses (in Illinois, there is a law that protects mothers who need to pump, but the law is for places with more than 15 employees so small businesses can be a problem)
  • family businesses
  • domestic workers
  • self-employed

Below is a list of suggested actions to help mothers attain more support in the workplace. Women are seen differently around the world, therefore depending on the situation in a particular country some of the actions will not be relevant.


  • educate mothers and employers
  • mother-to-mother support groups (provide them with information on the laws that protect them)
  • distribute information in newsletters, magazines, newspapers
  • for illiterate mothers, reach out to them through drama, songs, pantomime moms from the Philippines
  • for semi-literate women, distribute information with pictures/drawings
  • send a letter (see below) to mothers who will be going back to work which they can use to inform employers of the laws that protect them


Dear Mom,

Congratulations on your new baby!

If you are planning to return to work, you should know about your breastfeeding rights. {In this section include the laws specific to her country. For example: In Mexico your rights are protected by the Federal Work Law 123. You have the right to breastfeed for one hour in your work time daily.}

For more information, call …


E. Maternity protection
Facilitated by Ines Fernandez

This group also discussed the issue of maternity protection and how women can exercise their rights.

The letter below was drafted with the same intentions as action D. This one is addressed to the employer, but with the idea of distributing it to mothers who can use it to inform their employers of their rights. With the letter a note card or pamphlet can be included stating the law(s) specific to the law of the state or country.

One idea for funding is to contact the Commission on Human Rights.


Dear Employer,

Mothers who breastfeed their babies benefit the workplace because:

  • mothers/employees miss work less often because breastfed babies are healthier
  • mothers may return to work sooner when their employer is supportive of breastfeeding
  • supporting breastfeeding in the workplace means less employee turnover, which reduces costs of job training and enhances productivity
  • happy employees who can breastfeed their babies are more loyal and productive employees.

Please consider joining other employers in forming your own lactation support program at work. For more information, call …

Note: Many states have legislation in support of breastfeeding, some of which address breastfeeding in the workplace. Supporting breastfeeding can mean legal compliance.

F. Combining breastfeeding and working
Facilitated by Janine Schooley

The action was to come up with a list of ideas to pitch to a popular media (e.g., soap opera) with the aim to inspire women to combine breastfeeding and working


A pregnant woman named Nina. She works in a pink or blue collar job (secretarial or factory worker, or worker in education or health care). She needs money (she has no option to stay at home). She delivers a healthy baby and is struggling, to successfully combine work and breastfeeding. She is convinced that breastfeeding is the best and, while challenged to do so, is able to successfully combine the two parts of her life.

Story lines:

For interest's/drama's sake we need "conflict situations":

  • Transportation challenges
  • Child care issues
  • Mother-in-law who doesn't want her to breastfeed.
  • Pediatrician/health worker who gives misinformation.
  • Co-workers: a little bit older, grandmotherly woman who remembers fondly what it was like to breastfeed.
  • She is concerned that people will think that she is not pulling her weight, not doing enough of her work.
  • She is concerned that she may not be promoted or may lose her job.
  • She's concerned about modesty issues (leaking milk at inappropriate moments, showing too much breast, finding a place to breastfeed or pump other than the bathroom).
  • She's concerned about not being seen as professional, capable.
  • She's concerned about what her colleagues and boss think and say about her.
  • She's concerned about being distracted and not getting her work done in a quality way and on time.

She has a friend/sister(s) to provide support and to be a dialogue "foil."

There have to be supportive folks and situations as well as controversy and challenges in the story lines. Our protagonist must be able to overcome these obstacles, but in a humorous, dramatic, engaging way so that people who watch her and her experiences get inspired and motivated to do the same, or help others to do the same.

Objectives/Key Messages:

  • Sensitization
  • Awareness of rights
  • Give women ideas about how they can achieve their rights to combine breastfeeding and work
  • Give ideas for how to get support
  • Give a real sense of possibility
  • Empowerment

In order to meet these objectives, the show needs to be very realistic/reality based, but at the same time has to be uplifting and motivational (Nina is not super woman - has to be a real woman; but she has to persevere/overcome many of the obstacles and challenges so that it is motivational and provides the viewers with a sense that they too can do the same).

Ideas for Distribution/Dissemination:

  • Pitch this idea to local television or other popular medium so that they bring this character to life.
  • Use your contacts in the media or other celebrities to access writers, directors, actors, etc. who might have access to decision-makers.
  • You may need to start small (with a small character, or elements of an existing character), but keep working on this so it grows into stronger element of the character or of the story.
  • Make sure that there is plenty of room/ability for adaptation, though the key messages and purpose needs to stay true.
  • Once the character is born and there's an identity created (a brand), then could go into marketing of her character (action figures, baseball cards, comic books, etc.), tying the marketing into additional and reinforced educational messages (e.g., list more how-to's or suggestions for support, etc. on the back of the baseball cards).
  • At the end of the show, or on the cards, it would say "for additional information or support, please contact your local LLL, etc."

Ultimately, "Ninas" would appear in every country who are role models and champions and who become "cultural icons" for breastfeeding and work -- the new Woman of the 21st Century!

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