Are Kenyan Organisations Doing Enough to Support Nursing Mothers?
A take on how our companies accommodate nursing mothers.
In October 2014, leading tech companies Apple & Facebook announced that they would be offering an insurance cover for women wishing to freeze their eggs and have their children later in life. While some view this as giving female employees control over their work and personal lives allowing them to start families when they are ready, it has also raised fundamental questions such as suggesting motherhood and career growth are incompatible; or likelihood of this benefit encouraging many women to have their children later in life. I started reflecting on various practices applied by Kenyan employers to support female employees especially nursing mothers and was amazed at how things have changed for better over years.
The Kenya Employment Act–2007 mandates all employers to grant female employees three months maternity leave, without forfeiting their annual leave, and grants fathers fourteen calendar days as paternity leave to support their nursing partners. While this is a great improvement from previous provisions, Kenya is still far from offering world class maternity provisions as enjoyed in Norway, France, Sweden and Canada, some of the leading countries with best maternity laws. Some of these countries provide six months maternity care with full pay and other provisions that ensure positions are secured if leave is extended. I must add though—while some of these laws are driven by different factors unique to these nations and exist to provide minimum guidelines offered to nursing mothers—a number of employers have gone out of their way to provide additional benefits for comfort of their female employees and we highlight some of these below:
The cost of medical bills can be a daunting one in Kenya, and as many may argue that getting a child is not an emergency but something that would-be-parents should plan for, many employers give maternity insurance to their employees to secure their comfort during maternity care. Such a benefit frees employees from financial burden associated with medical bills and keeps them productive and engaged in their work.
The challenge here is however the extend of cover, as many employees still have to top up in majority of cases to meet additional costs, though hospitals have been quite innovative and now offer maternity packages which are affordable and can be taken within the insurance cover or independently.
Pre & postnatal care
Many employers do recognise the financial burden that comes with pre and postnatal care and many ensure these costs are covered in the medical schemes provided to employees. Under this benefit many employers cover costs relating to maternity care consultations to baby friendly vaccines that are outside the government-approved list, but are essential in protecting infants and young babies from life threatening diseases.
Extended maternity leave
Some employers, especially in the NGO sector do offer additional maternity leave to allowing nursing mothers enough time to provide early nursing care through breastfeeding, which is advisable as crucial during the first six months of the baby’s life. When such leave is combined with the standard annual leave, a nursing mother has flexibility to remain on continuous leave for 4 to 5 months.
Flexible nursing time
Many employers do allow nursing mothers flexible time during their nursing period, enabling them to either go to work later and leave early, or taking an extended lunch break to give them time to go back home to breastfeed, or allowing them to leave work earlier to nurse their infants. A few do allow nursing mothers to work from home within selected days, depending on business schedules.
Child-related sick leave
Some employers have embraced the good practice of giving nursing mothers sick leave when their little ones are unwell, but what is most common is inpatient leave—when the parent is required to attend to a child admitted in hospital.
There is still al lot more employers can do to support nursing mothers and we will highlight a few good practices common in leading global companies. We do have a few local companies that may have adopted some of them to improve their brand as employers of choice:
Nursing mothers are encouraged to express their milk and store it safely so that when they are away at work the baby can continue feeding on the mother’s milk. Expressing milk also helps the mother relief themselves of the pain that comes when the mammary gland is full and the milk is ready to flow. For many years, breastfeeding mothers have sought relief by pressing the milk out to release the pain but now there are gadgets that are available to pump the milk out to clean baby feeding bottles for safe storage. Progressive employers are providing nursing rooms, stocked with a sink and a refrigerator for nursing mothers to use for this purpose.
Many mothers know the importance of finding a good and trusted baby minder especially when one has to return to work and have their little one under someone else’s care. Employers have come to understand that productivity of nursing mothers is easily affected if they are not comfortable with the person taking care of their baby while at work. For this reason, they provide nursing rooms, or better still day-care centres where mothers can come to work with their babies and leave them under care of trained minders as they carryon with their work. In this regard the employer provide suitable and well-equipped facilities together with trained caregivers for ease and comfort of their employees and their babies.
Many employers provide expertise training to employees’ house workers and baby-minders especially in first aid, basic housekeeping skills and child wellness. Such training gives employees peace of mind, knowing that their house help know how to handle any baby related emergency that may arise during their absence.
Free or nearby parking
Many employers especially those based in busy town centres do not have enough parking for their staff and some make effort to avail free parking to expectant mothers to enhance their comfort. For those based in big campuses, it is easy to find the parking near the office block are reserved for senior managers. Some employers do make these available to expectant mothers.
It is now not uncommon to find employers supporting nursing employees to travel with their infants, if it is critical that their presence in an out of station meeting is critical.
With growth of global economies, changing preferences of employees and push towards greater work-life integration, employers are competing for the same talent pool and in order to attract employees with the right skills and attitudes, companies need to find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Recognising and catering for needs of nursing mothers can create loyalty that can lead to enhanced engagement and probably higher retention. Employers with these benefits need to sell them more to targeted talent and enhance their competitive advantage and brand as a preferred employer.
*Originally posted on 17th March 2015.