Fazidah Abdul Latif, 29, executive in an insurance consulting firm:
Having seen a few cases where some children are closer to their maids or baby sitters instead of their own parents, I didn’t want this to happen to me. So I decided to breastfeed my children because I believe it will keep us close and I can provide the best for them.
I am currently exclusively breastfeeding Rizul (4 months old) and expressing breast milk for Rina (22 months old). My breastfeeding journey has not been smooth sailing since I have always had supply problems. It was during my first breastfeeding experience that I realised I needed a better breast pump, since the first pump didn’t seem to work very well and affected my milk supply.
However, financial constraints were a factor I had to consider since the second pump that I wanted to buy was very expensive. I recall how hubby almost jumped from his chair when he heard the price!
Through monthly savings, and by cutting down on whatever possible expenses, we managed to get the second breast pump before the arrival of my son Rizul. My hubby now agrees that I made the right investment.
I remember once receiving a notice from TNB, informing us that the power supply in our area would be cut off for eight hours. Hubby and I panicked, and started calling our friends, asking for space in their freezer to store my frozen breast milk. Fortunately, one of them was willing to help us. The night before the power supply was cut off, hubby started transporting 150ml of frozen breast milk in a basin filled with 3kg of ice. It was also raining that night, and instead of using the umbrella for himself, hubby used it to cover the basin!
Employers can support mothers by providing a refrigerator in the office. Though it requires additional expenses, in the end the company will also enjoy the benefits â€“ healthy babies seldom fall ill, so employees will be more productive!
Mums give their best
Dr Teoh Mei Shi, 30, medical doctor in Kelantan and pursuing Masters in Surgery:
I had long dreamt of doing a speciality course and had always considered starting a family after I finished my studies. But God decided to make life a little more challenging for me, and blessed us with a lovely daughter in the middle of my programme. Unfortunately, I still have two more years of my course to complete, which has to be done in Kelantan. My six-month-old daughter, Min Lynn, lives with her father back home in Penang.
My hours are very unpredictable ? and life can be hellish! There is no â€œtypical dayâ€ at work for me. Sometimes there are OT (surgical calls) days, on-call days, clinic days and academic days. I start work by doing rounds early in the morning, then I go to clinic to see more patients there (most times extending past lunch time) and then back to the ward to see in-patients again. On days like these, I will get up at 6am to express, then express again any time between 10am and noon, and then once more after work in the evening.
Something I hadn’t considered earlier was how I would transport my milk during the seven-hour drive home (to Penang). It would be such a waste if my milk couldn’t stay frozen and had to be thrown away. I searched high and low for a solution, and even spoke to the ice-cream man and transportation services. In the end, I decided to try using a big cooler with lots and lots of ice to fill it up. It worked, but it was quite a hassle looking for so much ice!
I can never be sure when I will be able to take leave to go home. It will depend on that monthâ€™s roster and whether we have enough people to share calls. On average, I try to go back every fortnightly.
Of course I would like to encourage all working mums to try to breastfeed their children. I know this is easy to say but difficult to accomplish. All I know is that I gave it my best shot. Just give it a try, donâ€™t give up before even starting.
Fighting for mum’s rights
In Malaysia, maternity protection at the workplace exists to a certain extent. Our labour laws currently allow 60 days of paid maternity leave, although the MTUC has put forth a memorandum to the Minister of Women and Family Development to ask for an additional 30 days. The duration of maternity leave is important so that mothers have enough time to establish breastfeeding at home.
In the same memorandum presented in 2000, MTUC also asked for the setting up of childcare centres at the workplace, as well as a suitable area for mothers to express their milk. MTUC’s requests were made in an effort to raise the standards of maternity protection in Malaysia to the level that has been set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The ILO Maternity Protection Convention includes provisions for 14 weeks paid maternity leave, one or more daily breaks or a daily reduction of hours of work (to be counted as working time and remunerated accordingly) for breastfeeding, and adequate, hygienic facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk.
At the very least, an expressing facility should consist of a small, clean space with a chair, and a screen, curtain or door for privacy. This facility should be located near to employees. Mothers should have access to clean running water and secure storage space, such as a cooler box or a cupboard, for expressed milk. More elaborate facilities may include a refrigerator or an electric outlet.
Although certain government agencies and multi-national corporations in Malaysia have set up special expressing facilities, other companies merely encourage their employees to make do with whatever is available. Pantries, prayer rooms, locker rooms, empty offices and even women’s toilets become makeshift breastfeeding rooms. MTUC believes that if enough female employees demand for proper expressing facilities, their employers or management will act accordingly.
In line with this, the MTUC has made efforts to educate women and men about the importance of breastfeeding and women’s rights in the workplace. â€œWe empower women so that they know what to ask for. Even men should know about these issues so that they can educate their wives, or mothers, or children. These are not just women’s issues, they are workers’ issues,â€ says Noorlaila.
The revised maternity protection package put forth by the MTUC is still under consideration by the Ministry. As long as these provisions are not legally recognised, employers will not be compelled to protect breastfeeding employees, which in turn, will contribute to the further decline of breastfeeding in the country.
As pointed out by the Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng, the breastfeeding rate In Malaysia declined by 12% from the 1950s to the 1970s. Today, more women have started breastfeeding again, thanks to efforts in increasing the public’s awareness. It would be a shame if mothers cannot continue providing the best nourishment for their children merely due to the lack of a proper support system.