Companies across Nigeria are implementing workplace breastfeeding and lactation support programs thanks to sustained advocacy supported by Alive & Thrive, which advocates say is changing attitudes, too, at multiple levels.
“A lot of awareness has been raised, a lot of work has been done on the importance of supporting breastfeeding in the workplace,” said Funmilayo Arowoogun, President of the Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association’s (NECA) Network of Entrepreneurial Women. “We did aggressive advocacy across the private employers. More people are buying into the idea, even government.”
An Alive & Thrive study published in 2019 provided evidence that has driven advocacy, but in the last several months, a program that introduced two pilot creches – at NECA’s main office and at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital – has inspired companies to act to support breastfeeding.
The pilot program also led to the writing of the Workplace Breastfeeding and Lactation Support Programme Toolkit.
The pilot creches were established with Alive & Thrive technical and financial support. They showed companies – NECA has more than 3,000 members spread across the country – what was possible, and a number of companies have since created their own creches.
“Initially one major company didn’t want to do it,” Arowoogun said. “But when they saw it, they called us and said we should send someone to them to guide them.”
The same had happened with NECA’s own creche, she said, which won the NECA director general’s support after he attended the launch of the pilot creche at Lagos State University
“When he saw the excitement and how the women were so happy to have something like that, he called me that day and said we should start our own immediately,” Arowoogun said. “Nothing was done until he saw it.”
Kemi Adenuga, who works at NECA’s front desk, said she has welcomed the innovation. Her 7-month-old daughter, Michelle, is a regular in the creche.
“I can go to the creche to breastfeed at any time – I love that,” Adenuga said. “It makes my work easier. I have peace of mind. I can see my baby at any time."
It also means that Michelle is much more likely to exclusively breastfeed through the recommended first six months of her life, she said, which was not the case for Michelle’s older brother, who is now 6 years old.
“I had to use infant formula because at my previous job there was no creche and I did not have enough time to pump,” Adenuga recalled. “There was no daycare close to work, so I had to leave my baby with my mom then."
Kemi Adenuga’s experience is not unusual, according to this recent news report in the Premium Times of Nigeria.
The pilot creches are part of a multi-faceted advocacy effort, explained Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, Alive & Thrive’s Senior Advisor for Policy and Advocacy in Nigeria.
The pilot creches not only showed what was possible, she said – they inspired the creation of the Workplace Breastfeeding and Lactation Support Programme in Nigeria, a practical toolkit that guides companies in adopting breastfeeding friendly policies and facilities. The programme was disseminated formally during the celebration of World Breastfeeding Week in August, earlier this year.
“You would hear many objections – ‘This will be too expensive’ or ‘How can you bring babies into the workplace?’” Adewale-Gabriel said. “But attitudes are changing.”
“The paradigm has shifted,” she said. “A couple of years back, this was not happening. Now, people are more receptive, more willing to listen to the possibilities. The government is in support – that has changed the whole story.”
Celine Oni, NECA’s Director of Learning, Development and Projects, said the changes reflect that more companies understand that to attract – and retain – women employees, they need to do more than offer attractive salaries.
“If you want to retain the talent, your talent needs to be engaged,” she said. “What concerns a female employee, should concern the organization.
“Some people will quit over family issues,” she continued, recalling her own earlier work experiences. “For you to retain your workforce, you need to look at what benefits you are providing to your workforce. When employees are not supported, they move."
The most recent evidence of changing attitudes is commencement of 14-working-day paternity leave for federal civil servants. But Oni said more needs to be done.
Cultural beliefs that women do not belong in the workplace are “still prevalent,” she said, particularly in more conservative parts of the country.
“But more women are beginning to speak up, they understand the biases and the inequalities,” she said. “They are choosing to speak up so their talents are not hidden. And they are helping other women, too."
Alive & Thrive’s report on maternity entitlements published in 2019 provided evidence that is now driving further advocacy.
The report was based on a national maternity entitlement survey, jointly conducted by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF and Alive & Thrive. It showed that only 9% of the organizations interviewed had a workplace breastfeeding policy. Additionally, these policies were not consistent across states or sectors: only 1.5% of public sector and 23% of private sector organizations provided creches or daycare services at the workplace.
Following the publication of that report, Alive & Thrive supported the revision of the National Guidelines on Baby Friendly Initiatives in Nigeria. The new guidelines now include workplace lactation support, which has made workplace lactation a prominent issue for policymakers, company managers, working women and others.
“There is a growing interest and effort to adopt family friendly policies in the workplace,” Adewale-Gabriel said. “Previously, in certain sectors it was difficult for a woman to keep a job while pregnant. If layoffs had to be done, women on maternity leave would be the first to go. In some sectors, there was an unwritten rule that you had to work a year before getting pregnant.”
But the time of maternity protections – workplace lactation support, 6-months maternity leave and others – has come.
“Many private sector companies are starting to adopt family friendly policies – they want to retain senior women employees,” Adewale-Gabriel said. “It is also helpful that government has come on board with the new paternity leave policy and by including workplace lactation in the baby friendly guidelines.
“I think everyone is recognizing that women can have their careers and also give their babies the best start in life.”