Lactating legislators in Tanzania were on Wednesday given a special room in parliament to nurse their babies in the latest development on breastfeeding in public spaces.

The country joins Uganda, Kenya and other countries in providing special areas for women to breastfeed. Women are castigated in some countries for exposing their flesh to nurse, even though breastfeeding is considered the best health option for mother and child.

“We have allocated a room from which legislators with babies will breastfeed their children,” said Tulia Ackson, deputy speaker of the Tanzania National Assembly. “We would like to ensure that the babies are in a good health,” she told the chamber.

Ackson said the move aimed to encourage breastfeeding and was in line with a directive from the country’s health ministry that babies should be breastfed for at least two years. Yet the country has a mixed record when it comes to nursing mothers.

Lucy Mayenga, a so-called special seat legislator – who is nominated by her party rather than elected – said the facility would help lactating MPs do both their jobs. “I think it is a very good thing, the MPs with children will accomplish two things in one” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Read: A step in the right direction as Kenya parliament approves law permitting breastfeeding at work

In Britain, Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, brought her four-month-old son to the Commons, breaking her maternity leave to vote for the historic Brexit bill. Speaker of the House John Bercow was quick to allay any fears she had about bringing in her new baby. “I say to the honorable lady, ‘don’t be sheepish about it!’ The little baby is welcome to come in. There’s no problem,” he was quoted as saying.

File picture. Local mothers attend a health community forum on immunization and exclusive breastfeeding held by the Nigerian-based NGO, C.H.I.E.F Photo: Seattle Globalist/Flickr

Studies have associated greater workplace support with fewer absenteeism rates in breastfeeding mothers, leading to improved productivity. If organizations could provide breastfeeding rooms in their offices, evidence has shown it can facilitate mothers to successfully express milk, and that adoption of breastfeeding supporting laws in a country saves lives and reduces countries’ expenditure on health.

Workplace support for breastfeeding mothers by employers and colleagues is crucial and recommended. Support can include but is not limited to:

  1. Allowing mothers the three months maternity leave
  2. Provision of breastfeeding rooms (with adequate water and breast milk storage equipment)
  3. Allowing for breastfeeding breaks and any other emotional or physical support required. 

Employers should also adopt and operationalize laws that provide for the women in casual employment to be accorded three months maternity leave.  Women working in farms and rural areas can be supported by being provided with baby shades and breastfeeding breaks to facilitate optimal breastfeeding.

Read: Uganda parliament opens breastfeeding facility for MPs and staff

“It’s an indictment on our society that we tolerate topless models in our fashion magazines, but that breastfeeding mothers are chased out of public spaces on a daily basis,” says Stasha Jordan, breastfeeding activist and executive director of the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR).

“Many mothers are forced to use public bathrooms to feed their babies rather than face this kind of abuse,” says Jordan. “A public toilet is one of the most unhygienic and dangerous places that you can nurse your infant in,” she continues.

“Breastfeeding is a human right,” says Jordan, “whether in public or at home, babies deserve the best chance at healthy lives, and that means breastfeeding for at least the first six months of their lives. Our responsibility is to encourage and support mothers, not to harass or shun them.”