Arista Mootheram

Once a year we dedicate a month of our year to celebrate our Women. In light of that, we also celebrate breastfeeding week from the 1st of August until the 7th of August every year.

Although breastfeeding is a natural process it is often construed as a taboo, as women who participate in breastfeeding their babies in public are often made to feel uncomfortable by onlookers. Not many women are aware of their rights when it comes to breastfeeding in the work place and most women do not participate in this due to their lack of awareness.

Breastfeeding week was first inducted in 1991 to bring awareness to the benefits and in the long run, reap support for it and normalize it. Today, approximately 120 countries have joined in this movement and it is a rapidly growing momentum in our society.[1]

Sections 87(1)(b) and 87(2) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 75 of 1997 as amended, allowed the Minister of Labour to pass a Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy and after the Birth of a Child.  The purpose of this code is to provide guidelines for the employers and employees that concern the protection and health against potential hazards in the work place during pregnancy, after the birth of the child and whilst breast feeding.[2]

The right to making a decision that is concerned with reproduction is protected in terms of section 12(2) of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996 and section 27(1)(a), which provides for your right to health care services and facilities. Women also have the right to not be discriminated against or dismissed based on being pregnant. This right is protected in terms of section 9(3) and (4) of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996 and section 187(1) of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 as amended as well as section 6 of the Employment Equity Act of 1998 as amended.  As can be seen from the extensive legislation above, women have the right to reproducing, but what about their rights after birth?

When a woman returns to work post-pregnancy, she is legally allowed to take time during her working hours to breastfeed her baby or express her breast milk.  It is important from birth until the baby is six months old to take two 30 minute breaks during her working hours to breastfeed or express.[3]

The Code also allows the mother to take her hour to breastfeed either at the beginning or end of the working day which allows for a shorter working day and an extra hour at home with the baby.  This is of course optional and must be discussed with and be approved by the employer.

The International Labour Organization makes provision for the establishment of facilities for breastfeeding which must be adequately hygienic and or near to the work place and it should be safe.

It is necessary and important to know your rights as a Women and to embrace and exercise them.  We are given the opportunity to reproduce and it is our duty to be informed of our rights as a mother in society to ensure the safety and well-being of the upbringing of the new generation that will lead South Africa.

Happy Women’s Month.




This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.