Support Breastfeeding in Workplaces and Public Places in Hong Kong

The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies up to about six months of age and gradually introducing appropriate complementary food while continuing breastfeeding until two years old or beyond.

Sustaining Breastfeeding In Hong Kong: the current challenges

Similar to other developed countries, Hong Kong has a high ever breastfeeding rate, followed by a steep decline in the continuation rate. In 2014, the ever breastfeeding rate on hospital discharge was 86%, whereas the exclusive breastfeeding rate at 4 months was only 27%1.

Infant feeding practices are affected by a multitude of factors. In addition to socioeconomic and cultural factors, an environment conducive to sustained breastfeeding including adequate support from healthcare professionals, workplace and community, is of paramount importance. Local studies have revealed that inadequate professional support from health care facilities, and “returning to the workplace” are the main reason for mothers to stop breastfeeding2. Besides, a local survey revealed that about one-third of the mothers reported that they had encountered unpleasant experiences when breastfed in the public, which reduced their intention to continue to do so3.

To address these local needs, the Government is committed to take the lead in implementing a comprehensive strategy to promote and support breastfeeding in the health care sector and the community. For instance, all eight public birthing hospitals would pursue the “Baby Friendly Hospital designation” in phase, and the maternal and child health centres have strengthened the professional support on infant and young child feeding for expectant mothers, new mothers and their families. A series of actions and campaigns have recently been launched to strengthen the community support on breastfeeding, including the promulgation of “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace”, “Breastfeeding Friendly Premises” and “Say Yes to Breastfeeding”.

“Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace”

When lactating mothers resume work, they have to express breastmilk during work to continue breastfeeding and alleviate engorgement. However, many working mothers comment that it is difficult to express breastmilk in the workplace4.

A “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace” is where an organisation or enterprise provides an appropriate and friendly environment for their breastfeeding employees to express breastmilk in the workplace in order to continue breastfeeding their children. The following three measures are to be in place:

  1. Allowing lactation breaks for employees to express breastmilk (e.g. two 30-minute lactation breaks in a work day);
  2. Providing a space with privacy, an appropriate chair, a table and an electrical socket for connecting breastmilk pumps; and
  3. Providing a refrigerator for storing breastmilk (a pantry refrigerator will do).

Please visit the Department of Health Family Health Service website for more information on “Employers’ Guide - to Establishing Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace” and “An Employee’s Guide - to Combining Breastfeeding with Work”.

Let’s support our lactating colleagues

Overseas experience indicates that the implementation of breastfeeding friendly measures in workplace has brought benefits to the employees and companies. Breastfed children are healthier, the parents take less leaves and feel less pressured for taking care of sick children, and productivity can thus be improved. This family-friendly measure adds to the fringe benefits for the employees. It fosters a positive image for the companies and reduces the turnovers of female employees. In the long run, the breastfeeding friendly workplace measures can help prolong the breastfeeding duration of infants and young children, promote the overall health of our society and reduce health care expenditure5,6,7.

In view of the benefits for the employers, lactating mothers at work and their babies, Hong Kong is actively promoting “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace” measures. Such policy have already been implemented in over 90% of the Government Bureaus and Departments, and adopted by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private companies in succession.

Whether we are the employers, or the employees, we can always help create a friendly environment so mothers can feel welcome and be supported to express milk! Frequent communication between management staff, breastfeeding employees and coworkers will all facilitate a successful implementation of “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace”.

"Breastfeeding Friendly Premises"

Every now and then, when lactating mothers go out with their children, they may directly breastfeed in public places and facilities like shopping malls, restaurants, leisure facilities or public transport. According to a survey conducted by the Department of Health in 20133, almost 60% of mothers had directly breastfed in public, so as to respond to their infants’ needs. Many breastfeeding mothers wish to continue their social activities while breastfeeding, e.g. dining with families, chatting with friends. Getting out and about for breastfeeding mothers should not be a concern as special arrangements are actually not required.

"Breastfeeding Friendly Premises" is a place where breastfeeding mothers and their families feel welcome and are supported to breastfeed anytime, anywhere. A welcoming signage for “Breastfeeding Friendly Premises” can be displayed for easy identification. The following are the recommended supportive measures:

  • Respect the mother’s freedom to choose where to breastfeed;
  • Do not disturb a mother who is breastfeeding, e.g. do not ask her to cover up, stop, or move to another area;
  • Offer an appropriate location to a mother who wishes for more privacy to breastfeed, as far as practicable, e.g. a secluded seat that is away from the entrance;
  • Be supportive of the needs of breastfeeding mothers and babies, e.g. explain to other customers about the situation.

It is inappropriate to ask mothers to breastfeed their babies in toilets!!

Please visit the Department of Health Family Health Service website for more information on resources for Breastfeeding-Friendly Community.

Becoming a “Breastfeeding Friendly Premises” can improve corporate image and gain public recognition, without increasing the operational cost. The staff's friendly and helpful attitude to breastfeeding mothers and their families is appreciated, and other customers are also impressed. The business can be freely publicised through mothers’ word-of-mouth recommendations.

Now, many Government facilities such as hospitals, clinics, cultural and leisure facilities have adopted these breastfeeding-friendly supportive measures in their premises accessible to the public. Also, the breastfeeding friendly policy has been promulgated to restaurants through “Say Yes to Breastfeeding” campaign. It is anticipated that more public premises such as shopping malls, public transport facilities will adopt these measures.

Whether we are the premises owners, staff or patrons, the most important thing is to respect the mother’s freedom to choose where to breastfeed. Positive public attitude and acceptance towards breastfeeding in the public, as well as welcoming premises are very essential support to the breastfeeding families!

Let’s give our children the best

An enabling and supportive social environment, created through collective efforts from different sectors of the community, is essential for our Hong Kong mothers to sustain breastfeeding. Apart from quality professional support to breastfeeding families, every member of the community can also help to promulgate a breastfeeding friendly environment in our workplaces or organisations! We may pledge our support as an individual, workplace employer or public premises owner through the online platform of the campaign “Say Yes to Breastfeeding”.

In addition, various resources on breastfeeding can be found at the Department of Health, Family Health Service website.

References

1 Department of Health: Breastfeeding Survey 2015. (http://www.fhs.gov.hk/english/reports/files/BF_survey_2015.pdf accessed 2016 Feb 1)

2 Tarrant M, Fong DYT, Wu KM et al. Breastfeeding and weaning practices among Hong Kong mothers: a prospective study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2010 10:27. http://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2393-10-27

3 Department of Health: Survey on Mother’s Breastfeeding Experiences in Public Places Sept 2013 (http://www.fhs.gov.hk/english/reports/files/Survey_on_Mothers_views_on_FM_promotion_full_2016_final.pdf accessed 2016 Feb 18)

4 Tarrant M, Dodgson JE, Tsang SF: Initiating and sustaining breastfeeding in Hong Kong: contextual influences on new mothers’ experiences. Nurs Health Sci 2002, 4(4):189-199. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12406205

5 US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Health Bureau: The Business Case for Breastfeeding 2008. http://mchb.hrsa.gov/pregnancyandbeyond/breastfeeding/easysteps.pdf

6 Baughman R, DiNardi D, Holtz‐Eakin D: Productivity and Wage Effects of “family‐friendly” fringe benefits. International Journal of Manpower 2003, 24(3): 247-259. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/01437720310479723

7 Bloom N, Kretschmer T, Van Reenen J: Are Family-Friendly Workplace Practices A Valuable Firm Resource? Strategic Management Journal, 2011, 32(4): 343-367.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/smj.879/abstract