Patrick, a premature baby weighing a minuscule 1.2 kilograms, was
“saved” by a breast milk bank in South Africa, where child mortality is
high despite being the continent’s most developed economy.
“It was a question of life and death because of the fact he could not go
on formula,” said his 39-year-old mother Annerleigh Bartlett.
“There was no way. He was too little.”
Bartlett, from Cape Town, wasn’t producing her own milk yet, and baby
formula can damage premature babies’ intestines.
So, for the first two weeks of his life, Patrick relied for his survival
on breast milk donated by anonymous women.
What can I do today?
The principle of milk banks is simple: mothers donate milk, which is
tested, pasteurized, and then delivered to babies in need.
When I present the Children’s Rights and Business Principles to a
business for the first time, the reaction I receive sometimes is that it
is a little overwhelming. There are so many things to consider and with
so many other CSR or sustainability issues to think about, it is
difficult to know how to start. So I often get the question “What
actions could I take today?”
The subject of this month’s column are a few practical answers to that
question that come with very little cost, but can make a very impressive
difference for your employees and their children.
“Every drop counts,” said a poster at the headquarters of the South
African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR), a network of milk banks which supply
87 hospitals and will feed over 2,800 children this year.
The first is about breastfeeding. UNICEF promotes exclusive
breastfeeding for the 1st 6 months of life as the best nutritional
option for children. This promotes healthy physical and cognitive
development. But when mothers return to work after giving birth, being
able to continue breastfeeding can be very challenging. Mothers can
continue to pump breast milk and store it for their baby, but often
there is no place to do this in the workplace, there is no time allotted
for breastfeeding mothers to pump breast milk, and there is no
refrigerated place to store breastmilk.
So many women have no choice but to feed their young babies commercially
prepared infant formula which, despite advertising which claims it to be
as good as mother’s milk, is not the ideal food for an infant of less
than 6 months.
“Human milk banks should be promoted and supported as an effective
approach to reduce … mortality for babies who cannot be breastfed,”
said South Africa’s Ministry of Health in a recent report.
So as a company you can promote the health and development of your
employee’s children by providing a facility and setting a policy to
allow for time for pumping breast milk. The facility should be a clean,
quiet place, and should have a refrigerator for milk storage. The policy
should allow for milk-pumping breaks throughout the day for all nursing
To make this as easy as possible for companies, UNICEF has developed the
10m2 of Love program. This explains exactly what a company needs to do
to set up a breast milk pumping facility in the workplace, how to
maintain it, and how to set human resources policies which promote
exclusive breastfeeding among new mothers. All the details can be found
at www.unicef.com/10m2oflove. The cost is minimal, but the benefits to
your employees and their children will last their lifetimes.
“South Africa has a much higher nutrition problem than countries at
comparable income levels.”
For parents of slightly older children, balancing work and the
responsibilities of parenting can be a challenge. This can be especially
difficult for parents with children that stay back in the home village
with relatives caring for them. To help parents deal with this, UNICEF
has developed a practical smartphone application with dozens of
parenting tutorial modules that can help your employees with many issues
they may face as parents. The application is free to download and use.
As a company, you could promote this App to all your employees on the
company website, on workplace bulleting boards, and in the orientation
package or new employee training guide. If employees do not have a
smartphone or tablet, the company could provide several tablets for
employee use and make them available in the employee lounge, cafeteria,
or from the human resources
South Africa’s infant mortality rate was 32.8 deaths per 1,000 births in
2013 – far higher than countries such as Egypt, Algeria or Indonesia.
The valuable information employees could learn on this App could help
them be better parents or deal with difficult situations, which can help
them balance their responsibilities at work with their responsibilities
as parents. The App can be downloaded by scanning the following QR code.
Linking this back to the CRBP framework, these two solutions fall into
the principles dealing with the workplace. Doing these things will not
cost much, but they will clearly show your support to your employees who
are also parents. Parents who feel that they are doing the best for
their children are likely to be happier and more productive, so in the
long term, the small investment you make in these two practical
solutions will return many benefits to your company.
Low breastfeeding rates
Children who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to
survive their first six months of life than formula-fed children,
according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
But South Africa has very low breastfeeding rates at just 7.4 percent,
partly as a result of prevalent poverty and effective marketing by baby
Soon after having their babies, many poor mothers need to get working
“Many of these moms are not employed in the formal sector. They don’t
get maternity benefits,” said Chantell Witten, researcher at the North
West University Center of Excellence for Nutrition in South Africa.