Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers at Work in Indonesia

31st July 2015
To mark World Breastfeeding Week, Sigit Sulistyo, World Vision Indonesia, writes for Eldis on the importance of supporting breastfeeding mothers at work in Indonesia.

Breastfeeding is widely known to yield immediate and long-term health benefits for infants and their mothers. Yet, in Indonesia, the exclusive breastfeeding rates in infants less than six months old have only risen slowly (39 percent in 2003; 32 percent in 2007; 42 percent in 2012 - Indonesia Demographic Health Surveys). During the same period, the proportion of children who are still breastfed at 12-15 months decreased from 80 percent to 77 percent.

One of the factors which negatively influence breastfeeding is increasing employment of mothers outside the home. In 2014 it was estimated by the World Bank that 50 percent of women were economically active in the labour force in Indonesia. Since the definition of economic activity excludes unpaid work, such as subsistence agriculture, the actual figures are far higher.

A mother in Jayawijaya District

WORLD VISION INDONESIA - A mother in Jayawijaya District of Papua Province Indonesia is breastfeeding her baby during infant feeding counseling session. Every day most of women in highland of Papua are working in the field far away from their home for planting and bring their babies with them to continue breastfeeding.

Limitations of laws and regulations

The lack of support at the workplace level is one of the main reasons why women stop breastfeeding before the recommended time. To some degree, the national government has provided laws and regulations to support breastfeeding mothers at work. The Labor Law (2003), gives three months of paid leave to mothers. At least 1.5 months of this maternity leave must be taken after the birth of the child. The law has also mandated employers to provide opportunities to female workers to breastfeed their babies during working hours.

Although Indonesia has adopted the principles of maternity protection in its laws, implementation remains challenging. A study conducted by Save the Children and the Indonesian Breastfeeding Mothers' Association in 2011 showed that only ten percent of government offices and 11 percent of private offices provided opportunities for employees to breastfeed/express breast milk during working hours. The Better Work Program Indonesia compliance report in 2014 also documented non-compliance rates related with breastfeeding protection regulations. Out of a total of 67 garment factories being surveyed in the Greater Jakarta Area, only 12 factories (18 percent) provided facilities, policies, or procedures for breastfeeding breaks. Based on this report the reasons of low compliance were to do with most of the factory owners not being aware of the policy or of the direct benefit in providing breastfeeding protection for factories’ productivity.

Other barriers

Lack of workplace support is not the sole explanation for low breastfeeding rates for working mothers. World Vision Indonesia suggests that another key barrier is a poor understanding that breastfeeding is still possible even though mothers are working and far away from their babies. The perceived difficulties of expressing breast milk and risk of decreasing the quality of breast milk might lead many mothers to use formula milk. Lack of family support might also be related to a mother’s decision to stop breastfeeding. According to a qualitative study of working mothers who practised exclusive breastfeeding in one urban area in Indonesia, the fathers’ support at home positively affects mothers to continue breastfeeding.

Good practice

Even though there are many challenges in practice, there are some examples of positive measures to support breastfeeding mothers at work. Some organisations and corporations have started to improve workplace conditions to support breastfeeding mothers beyond what is mandated by the law. Kokok Dirgantoro, CEO of a public relation company in Jakarta decided to give six months maternity leave to enable female staff to exclusively breastfeed their babies. World Vision Indonesia is also trying to support its female staff by providing a lactation room in the office, breastfeeding breaks, four months maternity leave, a two month unpaid extended maternity leave option for breastfeeding mothers, and five days paid paternity leave for fathers. The Better Work Indonesia Program and the Indonesian Breastfeeding Mothers' Association are also working to promote a breastfeeding friendly workplace policy focusing on garment industries where most of the employees are female. The Government’s collaboration with the Employers’ Association of Indonesia has led to the Healthy Productive Women Workers Movement which includes the promotion of breastfeeding protection at work. The Ministry of Health and various NGOs working on nutrition have also conducted community and facility-based interventions to improve people’s awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and the ability of mothers to breastfeed or to express and store milk at home and in the workplace. These multi-stakeholders efforts are likely contribute to higher Indonesia breastfeeding rates.

Data needed

There is however limited national data regarding employers’ compliance of law and regulations of maternity protection including breastfeeding support in the workplace. There is also limited data on breastfeeding support for women working in the non-formal sector. A national scoping study and regular monitoring are needed to understand the level of breastfeeding support for working mothers in the formal and non-formal sectors in Indonesia. We also need more efforts to convince employers, communities – and sometimes even employees – that breastfeeding, once women return back to work, is not only possible but also important for mothers, children and their families, as well as for business and society as a whole.