A survey published today (5) reveals that mothers in semi-specialized manual occupations (manicurists, shoemakers, bakers, laboratory assistants, fairgrounds, among others) and with working hours of 8 or more hours a day, more often stop feeding their children exclusively with breast milk for four or six months after delivery. The research, published in the Revista Cadernos de Saúde Pública, collected data from 5,166 mothers of live births in 2010 in the capital of the state of Maranhão, São Luís.
According to the survey data, among women who do not have any type of paid work (who, in theory, have better conditions to maintain exclusive breastfeeding), 46% maintained breast milk as the only food for their babies until the fourth month of life.
Among mothers who are in semi-skilled manual occupations, the percentage dropped to 34%, the same rate of mothers with working hours of 8 or more hours a day.
The study also showed that mothers with clerical occupations, who worked 4-5 days or 6-7 days/week and for 5-7 hours also practiced less exclusive breastfeeding until the sixth month.
Several studies on the subject already indicate that paid maternal work is one of the factors for the interruption of exclusive breastfeeding (only breast milk, without tea, water, other milks, other drinks or foods) before the child is six months old.
Pediatrician, researcher and professor at the Department of Medicine at the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA) Marizélia Ribeiro observes that one of the main negative effects of women returning to work before the child is six months old is the decrease in breast milk production, which ends up contributing to the reduction of exclusive breastfeeding, especially when the journey is full-time.
One of the authors of the research and other works focused on maternal and child health, Marizélia told Brazil Agency that, generally, studies on the subject end up being restricted to just registering whether or not the mother has some type of paid work and who felt the need to deepen the hypothesis about how work activities interfere with the interruption of exclusive breastfeeding.
According to her, the idea was motivated by the monitoring and observation of mothers in a health unit in the capital of Maranhão who were already beginning to show a strong apprehension about how to avoid interrupting exclusive breastfeeding.
“These mothers are poor mothers who, when they were close to the third month of their babies’ lives, began to have great concerns about how to avoid interrupting the breastfeeding of these children”, he said.
The Federal Constitution establishes as mandatory maternity leave for 120 days, which can be started up to 28 days before delivery. The Ministry of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) until the child’s sixth month of life.
The researcher observes, however, that the reality points to a different scenario, since many of these mothers are in the informal market, therefore, without the possibility of taking advantage of the leave. In addition, she notes that the market ends up putting pressure on women to return to work early.
“Most of the time it’s a full-time workday. They must have maternity leave only until the fourth month. Unsafe working conditions, as they are in professions where it is not required to have training and for not having the training, she accepts and submits to more unhealthy working conditions”, he argued.
Marizélia also highlights the existence of a social prejudice practiced against women who breastfeed in public and that, despite some advances in recent years, this is also very present in the work environment.
“People do not realize that when the child is being breastfed, an investment is being made in the mother and in that child who will be a healthier child, with more possibility of reaching their potential, because it is already known that they die less, have fewer diseases chronic conditions, has a greater possibility of being a person with a better cognitive performance”, he argued. “Breastfeeding is better suited for this developing brain and people fail to realize that this is a long-term investment in overall health,” he reiterated.
In addition to returning to work earlier, another point observed in the research to justify the interruption of exclusive breastfeeding is the double or triple work shift to which these mothers are subjected. This even makes it difficult to remove and store breast milk. Study data showed that 54% of respondents did their homework alone.
“Hardly, with the full-time workday, she is able to maintain exclusive breastfeeding. Because she has the 8-hour journey out of the house, she takes two hours or more in traffic, and when she gets home, she still has her homework,” she said. “How is she going to get milk? Pumping milk is not easy, because she comes home tired, she has to make food, she has to see the other children, she has things to wash, tidy the house, she has to do all that so she can be working the next day”, said.
Marizélia defends the adoption of a full six-month maternity leave for all women, as one of the measures to reverse this situation.
“It is not just a leave, but a leave with all the other conditions of training, work opportunity, cultural change of what breastfeeding means and what it means for a child to breastfeed in life”, he defended.
Translated to english by RJ983
From Brazil, by EBC News