The International Baby Food Action Network Newsletter


88th Conference of the ILO supports nursing breaks


IBFAN groups together with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, women's and trade union groups were pleased to see some progress in the setting of workplace entitlements for pregnant and breastfeeding women. After two years of intense lobbying of UN agencies and governments some advancement of policies protecting women's workplace needs has been achieved.


  According to Allison Linnecar of IBFAN Geneva:

"At the 88th Conference of the ILO held in Geneva, this past June, governments from around the world voted, by a large majority of 304 to 22 (with 116 abstentions), to adopt a new Convention to protect the workplace rights of women when they are pregnant or have young children. This new Convention replaces the existing 1952 Convention, which after ratification by two countries, becomes international law. Thirty-seven countries had ratified the previous Convention; it is hoped that even more governments will sign on to the current Convention."

IBFAN and related breastfeeding advocacy groups such as the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) have formed the Maternity Protection Coalition (MPC). Its objective has been to work with trade unions towards longer, paid maternity leave and adequate paid nursing breaks. Currently many women around the world are entitled to only a short period of paid maternity leave -- some as short as only 3 weeks and no accommodation to their lactational needs. Such situations, combined with unfavourable workplace environments and attitudes are barriers to successful breastfeeding.

The newly drafted Convention, though still far from optimal, includes the following provisions:

  • extended maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.
  • the rights of women to return to their same job after maternity leave
  • provision for breastfeeding breaks at work -- "which shall be counted as working time and remunerated accordingly."

Although the Maternity Protection Coalition had hoped that paid maternity leave would be extended to 18 weeks in the Convention (to facilitate exclusive breastfeeding for about six months) the extension from 12 to 14 weeks is a step in the right direction and demonstrates recognition of the importance not only of women in the workplace, but also of the value of breastfeeding.

"WHO and UNICEF both made strong statements in support of the health of the mother and the child and provided scientific information on the need of breastfeeding mothers for breaks and facilities to breastfeed and express breastmilk," states Ms. Linnecar.

The new Convention, number 183, needs to be ratified by two countries before it enters into force. As many countries as possible need to ratify the Convention, thus creating an obligation to improve their maternity protection legislation. Action is needed at country level to raise awareness and create the political will to keep maternity benefits policies moving forwards to optimal levels.

For more Information contact IBFAN-GIFA.

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