Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Breastfeeding, maternal health and everyday living

Q.13 Is exclusive breastfeeding possible, in particular for working mothers?

Yes, and counselling and support can significantly help her to do this.

Globally, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life in developing countries is about 36% according to UNICEF, showing that many women are able to exclusively breastfeed if they are properly supported to carry out this practice. Good counselling and support, as well as policies that help create conducive environments in families and in the community make a significant difference. In one study where trained peer counsellors were available and good follow-up provided, 45% of HIV-infected women exclusively breastfed for a full 6 months, while 66.7% did so for a full 5 months and 72.5% for 3 months.

Women employed away from home, whether or not they are HIV-infected, can continue exclusive breastfeeding/breast-milk feeding through a variety of approaches. A mother should breastfeed as often as possible when she is with her infant. She can return home or have her baby brought to work during breaks if she lives nearby or if the baby is in a nearby crèche. A mother can also express her milk and leave it for another caregiver to feed to the baby in a clean and safe way while they are apart. Expressed breast milk can be kept for up to 6 – 8 hours at room temperature. In many situations, working women can take advantage of maternity protection provisions which are aimed to protect breastfeeding, such as maternity leave after the birth to facilitate exclusive and continued breastfeeding and breastfeeding breaks once they return to work. Such provisions also include workplace breastfeeding rooms for expressing and storing milk during the workday.

Health workers should help all mothers learn how to express breast milk and store it safely. WHO and UNICEF recommend hand expression and training health workers in all Baby-friendly facilities in how to support this practice.

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