#WBW2015: What Women Need for Maternity Protection



In honor of World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), Lactation Matters is running a series of posts on this year’s WBW theme, Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make it Work! 

This week’s series addresses the importance of recognizing and supporting all types of work; the fundamental three pillars of maternity protection (this post); upcoming, shorter term workplace solutions that support working women throughout breastfeeding; and worldwide examples of paid maternity leave in action.

Women’s work spaces are diverse—formal and informal locations; full-time, half-time, and temporary; and office work to service jobs to manual and agricultural labor. With so much diversity in the daily work lives of women, how can employers and communities provide an effective framework for Family-/Breastfeeding-Friendly workplaces?

World Breastfeeding Week encourages embracing the needs of working women by highlighting three key pillars of maternity protection: time, space, and support.


  • Six months paid maternity leave postnatally to support exclusive breastfeeding, and adequate paid leave prenatally. Where leave is shorter, women need means to extend their leave period so that they can be with their babies, combining fully paid, unpaid, or some other form of leave.
  • Additional paid leave for mothers of preterm or other vulnerable infants who may need extra time for special care and to express and provide life-saving human milk for their babies.
  • One or more paid breastfeeding breaks or a daily reduction of hours of work to breastfeed her child.
  • Flexible work hours to breastfeed or to express breastmilk, such as part-time work schedules, longer lunch and other breaks, job sharing, or any such alternatives.


  • Infant and child-care at or near the workplace and transportation for mothers to be with their babies. For rural work sites and seasonal work, women could use mobile childcare units or shared childcare and wet-nursing arrangements, according to accepted cultural practices.
  • Private facilities for expressing and storing milk. It can be a breastfeeding room or any safe space at or near the work site.
  • A clean work environment, safe from hazardous waste and chemicals.


  • Information about national maternity laws and benefits, as well as maternity provisions provided at their workplace or sector-wide, which may be better than national laws and practices.
  • Support from employers, management, superiors and coworkers in terms of positive attitudes towards pregnancy, motherhood, and breastfeeding in public.
  • Information about women’s health during pregnancy and lactation in order to be better able to combine employment with breastfeeding and childcare needs.
  • Support from worker’s or trade unions, either from their own work sector or the larger national unions.
  • Job security and non-discrimination on the grounds of maternity and breastfeeding.

Differences in the work and workplaces of women need not stymie efforts to promote breastfeeding-friendly practices in places of employment. Finding ways to address these primary themes in any work environment serves to greatly advance the experiences of women performing productive and reproductive work and encourage full and healthy family lives.

Want to learn more? These posts excerpt information found in the World Breastfeeding Week 2015 Action Folder, which is available for download here.

Photo credit: WABA, Monaliza Oliveira da Palma


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