By Wossen Mulatu
7 August 2015:- Globally, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from 1-7 August. This year, World Breastfeeding Week focuses on working mothers with the theme, “Breastfeeding and work- let’s make it work! The aim is to empower and support all working women to breastfeed, whether in the formal or informal sector so they can combine work with child-rearing, particularly breastfeeding.
“Giving children the best start in life begins with breastfeeding”, said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia during the inauguration of UNICEF Ethiopia’s breastfeeding room at its new office facility. The aim is to allow breastfeeding mothers in the office to continue breastfeeding their new-borns after returning to work. “By allowing our female colleagues the time, space and the necessary support to breastfeed in the working environment, children will receive the best food, care and protection possible. It also reduces absenteeism and increase productivity. We want the same for all Ethiopian babies and young children”
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life yields tremendous health benefits including; providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and fostering growth and development. Continued breastfeeding after six months, for up to two years of age or beyond, combined with safe and appropriate complementary feeding, is the optimal approach to child feeding.
“Having a breastfeeding room in UNICEF is wonderful because it allows me to spend quality time with my baby without having to leave the office”, says Lina Jalouqa, Donor Relations Specialist in UNICEF Ethiopia. ”Besides, breastfeeding is one of my favourite things about being a mother since I can spend my special time with my little one. In addition to its incredible health benefits, breastfeeding gives me and my baby a chance to connect and share love and trust,” she added.
“I am honestly thrilled that I can be able to nurse my nine months old baby at work,” says Sarah Sahlu, who works in Nutrition section at UNICEF. “Since I live far from work, the drive back and forth takes longer time and that decreases the volume of milk that is produced for my baby.”
For working mothers, a baby’s right to breastfeed can be interrupted or hindered by a nursing mother’s limited chance to combine breastfeeding with work due to lack of adequate support. For example, nursing mothers often do not have the necessary maternity leave or do not have access to the time, space and support that would allow them to breastfeed or express (pump) milk once they have resumed work.
Working women in the formal and informal sectors around the world face challenges combining work with breastfeeding. Women with full- or part-time work, those that are self-employed or have only seasonal or contract work, even those with unpaid home and care work, all require an enabling environment in order to succeed.
Worldwide, only 38 per cent of children under six months are exclusively breastfed. Babies who are not breastfed have a higher risk of illnesses and death than those that are. They also face long-term physical, educational and economic setbacks.
In Ethiopia, while 99 per cent of children are breastfed, only 52 per cent of children are exclusively breastfed within the first six months (EDHS, 2011). Additionally, among children 6-23 months, only 5 per cent received four or more food groups, and 49 per cent were fed at least three times per day (EDHS,2011).
With increasing urbanization and industrialization, more women will participate in formal labour forces and hence need to ensure their right to breastfeed in their workplace.
 UNICEF global databases, 2015, based on MICS, DHS and other nationally representative surveys