Working mothers need longer maternity leave, allowing them to exclusively breast-feed their newborn babies for first six months, activists say.
Indonesian Breast-feeding Mothers’ Association (IBMA) chairwoman Mia Sutanto said breast-feeding rates in Indonesia were still quite low due to inadequate support, both in terms of regulation and infrastructure desperately needed by working moms to provide exclusive breast-feeding for their newborns.
“We still have low breast-feeding rates compared to other countries, a result not only from lack of information on the importance of breast-feeding, but also poor working regulations and infrastructure which would allow mothers to exclusively breast-feed their babies,” she told The Jakarta Post.
Citing an example, she said that many working moms failed to breast-feed their children due to short maternity leaves, a certain period in which female workers take leave from work for child birth and nursing.
Under the 2003 Law on manpower, the government provides a three-month-maternity leave for pregnant workers, hopefully allowing them time to fully recover from the physical effects of giving birth.
According to a ministerial regulation, maternal leave should be used 1.5 months before and after giving birth.
“It’s obviously not enough for them to exclusively breast-feed their babies,” she said, adding that breast-feeding was an important issue as female workers had reached 40 million people.
In a report titled “The State of Breast-feeding in 33 Countries, 2010” recently published by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia, Indonesia ranks at the 30th among 33 countries, followed only by Mozambique, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
According to an Indonesia Health and Demographic Survey (SDKI) report in 2007, only 32 percent of children under the age of six had exclusive breast-feeding from their mothers, decreasing by six points compared to the same survey in 2003.
“Indonesian children who were breast-fed during their first two months reached only 48 percent in 2007, decreasing sharply from 64 percent in 2003,” Mia said, adding that in 2007 about 65 percent of newborns had received supplemental food, including formula milk, during their first three days of life.
“It is worsening,” said Mia.
Many scientific research reports say that infant and young children might suffer from malnutrition and other health problems caused by lack of breast-feeding.
“Breast milk is not only the best, but also the only food for the baby,” Mia said, adding that it contains vitamins and nutrition needed by infants in the first six months of life, both to protect them from illness and boost their intelligence.
It is surely not easy for working moms to exclusively breast-feed their babies. Zanuba Arifah Chafsoh (35), a prominent politician, said that it should not be an excuse for working moms refusing to breast-feed their babies.
Citing an example, she said that advanced technologies, such as breast pumps and portable milk coolers, had made it easier for a working mom to make sure that she could still breast-feed her baby amid her tight schedule of activities.
“Still, it is more difficult for a working mom to breast-feed her baby. Breast-feeding takes a lot of effort. Therefore, we should provide more support for breast-feeding moms,” said Zanuba, also often called “Yenny Wahid”, who still breast-feeds her only daughter, Malika Aurora Madhura.
Many factors contribute to the poor performance of exclusive breast-feeding rates in Indonesia including inadequate knowledge of the importance of breast-feeding, as well as unethical promotion of formula milk at hospitals, community health clinics and midwives’ maternity centers.
Maternity leave may be one proper measure to enable a working mom to breast-feed her baby. It has long been implemented in many countries. Bangladesh recently expanded its maternal leave to six months.
Many developed countries provide “parental leave”; providing paid or unpaid time off work for female workers and their spouse to care for their children.
Unfortunately, maternal leave in Indonesia has not been well-implemented and is still fraught with loopholes. For example, the 2003 Manpower Law only regulates maternal leave for workers in the formal sector.
“How about people who are working in the informal sector? They must breast-feed for six months, but they don’t even have the right to maternity leave other workers receive,” Mia said.
The 2003 Manpower Law is one of several laws to be revised this year. It has been put in the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas). (ebf)