New Convention protects
breastfeeding for working mothers
Last week in Geneva,
at the 88th Conference of the International Labour Organisation,
governments from around the world voted, by a large majority of
304 to 22 (with 116 abstentions), to adopt a new Convention to
protect the rights of working women when they are pregnant or
have young children. This new Convention replaces the existing
1952 Convention. After it has been ratified by two countries it
becomes international law. The previous Convention was ratified
by 37 countries; it is hoped that even more governments will sign
on to the new Convention.
groups such as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN),
the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and trade unions
have been lobbying for new standards which will protect a woman's
right to breastfeed. Currently many women around the world are
entitled to only a short period of paid maternity leave. If they
want to breastfeed their baby, this situation, alongside unfavourable
conditions and attitudes at the workplace, combines to make breastfeeding
The UK abstained and
was the only European country not to vote in favour of the new
Convention. This is apparently because of the review of maternity
and parental leave which is underway. (At the moment in the UK
there is legislation for maternity leave up to 18 weeks - but
it is not at full, or even two thirds rate of pay.) Baby Milk
Action - the UK IBFAN group - urges the UK Government to pass
legislation which encompasses all the provisions of the new Convention.
In the UK 19% of women
surveyed (Foster et al 1997) stated that returning to work was
a reason for stopping breastfeeding before their babies reached
the age of 3 months, despite recommendations that babies should
be exclusively breastfed for about six months.
Tessa Martyn, Health
Campaigns Co-ordinator for Baby Milk Action said:
"We are delighted
that the new Convention has been adopted by such a large majority
and hope that it will enable women who choose to breastfeed
do so for longer and, when at work, can do so in a more supportive
environment. It is ridiculous that women still have to either
stop breastfeeding because they want to return to work, or secretly
express milk - often in the staff toilet. Breastfeeding is a
right of mothers and is a fundamental component in assuring
a child's right to food, health and care."
The new Convention
includes the following provisions:
- extended maternity
leave from 12 to 14 weeks.
- the right of women
to return to their same job after maternity leave
- provision for
breastfeeding breaks at work - "which shall be counted
as working time and remunerated accordingly."
Although IBFAN had
hoped that paid maternity leave would be extended to 26 weeks
(to facilitate exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months) the
extension from 12 to 14 weeks is welcomed as it demonstrates recognition
of the importance not only of women in the workplace, but also
of the value of breastfeeding.
For more information
contact: Baby Milk Action,
23 St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX,
Tel: 01223 464420,
ILO Campaign website:
ILO website, with full text of the Convention: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc88/comreps.htm
Additional notes for
IBFAN: The International
Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), of which Baby Milk Action is
a member, is a global network of organisations and individuals
- with over 150 groups in over 90 countries.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) and UNICEF (Lhotska and Armstrong
1999) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six
months, and then continued, with appropriate complementary foods
introduced, up until 2 years of age and beyond. Breastfeeding,
as the physiological norm, provides optimal nutrition for the
vast majority of infants. There is now a huge body of research
which demonstrates that artificial feeding is associated with
a number of health disadvantages - not only for the infant but
for the mother as well.
Length of maternity
leave: Interestingly many of the countries who voted against
the new Convention (including 6 Latin American countries) did
so as they felt that the provisions were not strong enough to
adequately protect the rights of breastfeeding women. Some Nordic
countries have up to one year paid leave
Foster K, Lader D, Cheesebrough S (1997) Infant Feeding 1995.
Office of national Surveys: London. Lhotska L, Armstrong H (1999)
UNICEF's Recommended Length of Exclusive Breastfeeding.
UNICEF, WABALINK 20/INSERT 3.