The right to Breastfeed in public [Pulse Contributor's Opinion]

Find out what is in the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill, 2017

Image of a Kenyan mother breastfeeding her child (UNICEF Kenya)

Worldwide Breastfeeding Week is celebrated on 1st -7th August every year. The week was founded in 1992 to generate public awareness and support for breastfeeding.

According to a report, in Kenya 99% of babies are breastfeed and only 61% of babies are exclusively breastfeed for their first six months of life.

In the absence of breast milk, infant formula is used. However, formula is very expensive, with a 400gm tin retailing at Sh1,571. This is out of reach for many Kenyan mothers.

The Breastfeeding Mothers Bill, 2017

Once the 90 days of maternity are up, most moms end up switching to formula milk or animal milk due to a lack of lactation rooms at the workplace. I was lucky enough to work in a company where I had access to a lactation room.

My office was at Strathmore University, where, guess what? There was a nursing (lactation) room! It was conveniently located in the Students’ Center. Very nondescript and easy to ignore. It had a fridge, a comfortable seat, an electricity outlet, hand sanitizer and paper towels. Heaven.

However, that wasn’t the case at the University of Nairobi where I still had my classes.

There were no nursing rooms on campus. I had to express milk four times a day and I could only do it from home. I constantly dealt with leaking breasts and wearing multiple breast pads at a go. Every new mother’s definition of hell.

In Kenya, we have the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill 2017 that was sponsored by Sabina Chege, Women Representative for Murang’a County.

The Bill mandates creation of lactation rooms accessible to the public in buildings with a minimum occupancy of 50 persons. The bill also provides for the right to breastfeed in public.

What a breastfeeding room should be like

The Bill states that a lactation room shall be shielded from view and be free from intrusion from co-workers; be clean, quiet, private and warm and should not be a bathroom or toilet.

The room should have a lockable door; have a wash basin; have a fridge for storing expressed milk; have a provision for an electric outlet and lighting; and have a chair, table and a clean space to store equipment.

Malls and eateries like Java are on the right track. They have changing rooms and changing tables in their premises. This makes the customer experience a lot better.

Pro tip: a happy customer is a returning customer. A returning customer is a willing buyer.

The Bill had earlier been proposed, in 2015 by Kitui South MP Rachel Nyamai, but it was rejected after threats from business groups who vowed to stop employing women if forced to provide breastfeeding facilities.

In addition, the Bill proposes that, “In circumstances where a baby needs to be breastfed for longer, a breastfeeding mother may apply for a flexible work arrangement (flexi-hours) for the purposes of breastfeeding or expressing milk at a location close to work or at home. The flexible arrangement shall specify the hours, type and work assignment and location to work from.”

Currently, the Bill is in the public participation stage where legislators are seeking feedback. Future breastfeeding mothers are now one step closer to exclusively breastfeeding their babies for the first six months. Consequences of not providing nursing rooms include a one-year jail term or a Sh500,000 fine.

The foregoing is an Opinion Article submitted to Pulse Live Kenya for publication as part of the Pulse Contributors Initiative.

Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.

Should you wish to submit an Article to Pulse, do so via contributors@pulse.co.ke.

Muthoni Njoki is a Kenyan Writer, Marketing & Communications Consultant and civil servant, with over 8 years in private and public service. The world is her oyster so she lives life to the fullest. Her mantra is, "Every moment on earth is a story to be told".

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