Mothers@Work: supporting breastfeeding mothers in the workplace

7 Aug 2019

3 August 2019

Dhaka – Inspiring stories from factories affiliated with Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) show that breastfeeding facilities in the workplace benefit working mothers, their babies and employers.

World Breastfeeding Week gives us an opportunity to look back at how garment factories are making a real difference to nursing mothers in the workplace.

The first of its kind in Bangladesh, Mothers@Work – a UNICEF and BWB partnership – is a national initiative to help protect the wellbeing of mothers and ensure that their children receive the early nutrition they deserve. Launched in 2017, this special initiative has been rolled out in 80 BWB partner factories.

Keeping a working mother closer to her child- Tania’s story

Tania Akhter is one of around 80 breastfeeding mothers employed at Sparrow Apparels Ltd in Gazipur, on the outskirts of capital Dhaka. The 28-year-old Quality Inspector is a mother of two and has been bringing her nine-month-old son to the on-site childcare centre and breastfeeding room since her return from maternity leave.

tania with child

Tania comes down to the breastfeeding room adjacent to the childcare centre twice a day-11: 00 am and 4:00 pm- to breastfeed her son. The well-equipped breastfeeding corner offers access to a refrigerator so that the breastfeeding mothers can safely express and store breast milk. Here she can nurse her child in a private, clean and well-equipped space. A dedicated attendant at the breastfeeding centre makes sure her baby is fed the stored breast milk at later times during the day.

Three nurses and two doctors from the factory’s childcare centre are there to counsel the nursing mothers on breastfeeding and proper maternity care. The breastfeeding mothers get two additional breaks (30 minutes each) before and after the lunch hour to spend time with their little ones.

“I can take care of my son, and I can feed him properly. Keeping my son closer to me even in the workplace and knowing that he is safe and growing up healthy gives me peace of mind. This helps me to concrete on my work better,” said Tania.

“Having such facilities is very helpful and as a mother, I can’t ask for a better workplace.”

In addition to breastfeeding rooms and a workplace environment supportive to breastfeeding, Mothers@Work focuses on paid maternity leave, health protection, cash and medical benefits, child care and employment protection and non-discrimination in the workplace. These minimum standards guide employers to ensure the rights of women and children are respected and withheld in the workplace.

An Investment in Working Mothers is an Investment in Business

Employers in Bangladesh’s garment industry are increasingly becoming aware of the numerous business benefits of supporting breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.

“Proper maternity benefits and a breastfeeding-supportive workplace are contributing to greater job satisfaction and loyalty among the workers in our factory,” said Fatama Akter, Compliance Officer at Sparrow Apparels Ltd.

High employee turnover remains a matter of concern for many garment factories in Bangladesh, it disrupts operations and recruitment processes cost employers time and money.

“Workplace facilities, such as the breastfeeding room, has helped our factory retain staff and skills in an industry with a high staff turnover rate.” Said Fatama Akter.

“Also, a happy mother is a more productive worker.”


Through this special initiative, BWB seeks to protect the wellbeing of mothers and ensure that their children receive key nutrients to support a baby’s healthy development

BWB Enterprise Advisors interact with factory management and workers – especially new mothers – on a regular basis to help boost awareness of breastfeeding’s benefits. They also ensure that policies and procedures relating to breastfeeding and maternity protection are followed while also supporting factories to set up breastfeeding rooms in line with UNICEF recommendations and the labour law.

Evidence has proven that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the optimal way of feeding infants because, among other benefits, it increases survival rates of infants, provides antibodies to combat disease, and stimulates an infant’s overall healthy growth and development.

Unfortunately in Bangladesh as well as many other countries there tends to be widespread misunderstanding of the benefits of workplace breastfeeding. As a result, enterprises often fail to comply with the provisions of the labour law relating to breastfeeding and are confronted with high absenteeism as well as high turnover rates of female staff following maternity leave. These issues are particularly critical in the Bangladesh garment industry, where some 60 per cent of employees are female.

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