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Breastfeeding laws in India: National and state laws nursing mothers must know

Kerina De Floras Kerina De Floras 14 Mins Read

Kerina De Floras Kerina De Floras

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Breastfeeding mothers are entitled to exclusive benefits under Indian law. This World Breastfeeding Week is a great opportunity to know more about these laws

Infant to Parent
Breastfeeding laws in India: National and state laws nursing mothers must know

Aarti’s mornings were mostly the same — waking up before the baby, preparing breakfast and lunch for the family, doing the laundry, and then sitting down for a cup of coffee if time permitted. Aarti had quit her job after her baby’s birth, as her workplace did not have any provisions to breastfeed her baby or pump milk. She couldn’t come home every time her baby was hungry either. Whenever Aarti missed office, the voice in her head reminded her, “You can’t feed your baby if you go back to work. She needs to be breastfed until she’s 2!”

This is the plight of many breastfeeding moms in our country.

Did you know that the Constitution of India directs the state to make laws regarding maternity benefits? In our country, there are many laws that safeguard the interests of pregnant and nursing employees. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017, for example, entitles breastfeeding moms to a crèche at their workplace, be it an IT firm, government office, factory, plantation, or mine. We thought that the World Breastfeeding Week (August 1–7) might be the best time to provide more insights into the various laws and provisions for nursing moms. This article talks about the challenges lactating mothers face in society, central and state laws in India related to breastfeeding, and the need to get to know more about them.

Challenges breastfeeding moms face in India

In 2018, a public interest litigation (PIL) was moved to the Delhi High Court by a 9-month-old infant Avyaan, seeking better breastfeeding facilities in public places. The petition was moved through his mother Neha Rastogi, an advocate. “We sought for the construction of feeding rooms or child-care rooms in public places for lactating mothers and infants,” said Neha. The petition stated that the absence of nursing rooms forced mothers to breastfeed in public (which made the mothers feel uncomfortable), and demanded that child-care rooms be built in public places to secure a mother’s right to privacy.

From lack of awareness about breastfeeding practices to the absence of nursing or child-care rooms at workplaces, lactating mothers face more challenges than we can imagine. Let’s find out more about this.

Lack of awareness about breastfeeding practices

The WHO and UNICEF recommend that infants be breastfed within the first hour of birth (early initiation of breastfeeding) and be exclusively breastfed (fed only breast milk) for the first six months. However, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 2019–2021 revealed that only about 41% of last-born children in India, who were breastfed in the two years before the survey, were breastfed within the first hour of birth. The early initiation of breastfeeding was low in women with no schooling and for deliveries not assisted by health professionals. The survey also found that only 64% of children under 6 months of age were exclusively breastfed.

Click here to read the National Guidelines on Infant and Young Child Feeding.

Absence of nursing rooms in the office and public places

Women have limited access to nursing rooms in malls, theaters, banks, and in the office. While a few companies are now arranging nursing stations or child-care rooms where women work, most public places don’t have one. This means that women are forced to breastfeed their infants on public transport, in secluded corners, under trees, in their cars or parking lots, or in restrooms. While doing so, they are also met with stares and ogles from strangers, adding to the embarrassment.

Poor monitoring and implementation of policies

Several laws and policies on breastfeeding exist in our country. Yet, their monitoring and implementation at the grassroots level are not carried out as expected. The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) assesses the implementation of policies and programs on infant and child feeding and publishes reports and report cards for various countries. In WBTi’s latest report (2018), India ranked 79th. This low score is due to poor administration of policies related to breastfeeding, lack of baby-friendly hospitals, marketing of substitutes for breast milk, and no proper breastfeeding counseling for pregnant and lactating mothers.

Most laws related to pregnant and lactating employees lack clarity and may not be applicable to women working in the unorganized sector as domestic help or farm hands. As a result, these women are denied maternity leave and crèche facilities, leading to a decline in the number of women working in the unorganized labor force.

National laws on breastfeeding

When we asked Neha about the consequences of her PIL, she said, “Our petition brought a massive change in society, and over 500 Pink Toilets were built in Delhi and NCR with nursing facilities for infants. Acting on our petition, the central government instructed all the states and union territories to take up the matter seriously and build child-care facilities across the country. To further create awareness about this issue, we have formed an NGO — Maatr Sparsh, an initiative by Avyaan Foundation — to construct feeding rooms with the help of the government and the public. We have also moved a petition before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India as a PIL, which will be listed soon.”

In order to overcome the many barriers concerning breastfeeding, it’s important to know about the existing laws and provisions in our country. This will help us become aware of the rights and benefits we are entitled to, and how we can demand them. Let’s talk about some of these laws, their limitations, and what can be done to improve them.

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017

This Act is an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, passed to regulate the employment of women for some time before and after childbirth. It’s applicable to women employees working in any establishment (factories, plantations, shops, mines, or commercial establishments) with 10 or more employees. The amendment included welcome changes like an increase in maternity leave and the establishment of crèches.

Key benefits listed under the Act

  • Women employees have the right to a paid maternity leave of 26 weeks
  • A woman with two or more children is entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave
  • A woman who legally adopts a child below the age of 3 months or a commissioning mother is entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave
  • Depending on her job profile, a woman can work from home after the maternity leave, on conditions mutually agreed upon between the woman and her employer
  • Establishments with 50 or more employees should have a crèche (nursery) at the establishment or within 500 meters of it, and nursing mothers can visit the crèche four times a day
  • Establishments should inform all women employees about these maternity benefits listed under the Act, in writing and electronically when they join the workplace

Limitations 

Although the Act is well-intentioned, it has a few cons.

  • The increase in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks can cause employers to prefer hiring men, thus reducing the job opportunities for women and affecting their financial independence
  • The Act does not take into account the rights of women employed in the unorganized sector, such as farm workers and self-employed women. A majority of women employees in the country are employed in this sector
  • It does not mention paternity benefits, making it look like the whole responsibility of caring for the infant lies with the mother

What can be changed

  • The government can partially fund the paid maternity leave of women employees to reduce the burden on employers so that they don’t think twice about hiring women
  • Provisions in other acts like the Factories Act, 1948 and the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008 must be considered and amalgamated to create a clearer law providing equal benefits to women in all sectors
  • As fathers have an equal role in parenting, the government can introduce paternity benefits to promote equality

The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966

Section 14 of this Act states that establishments related to the manufacturing of beedi and cigars should provide crèches.

Benefits listed under the Act

  • Industrial establishments with more than 30 female employees must have suitable child-care rooms for children under 6 years of age
  • These rooms must be clean, sufficiently lighted, and ventilated, and have women trained in child care to assist the mothers.

The state government can make rules regarding the location of crèches, availability of milk and refreshments for children, and the provision of other facilities for feeding children and washing and changing their clothing.

Limitations

  • Despite the Act’s provisions, the necessary facilities are not usually provided by establishments
  • Women employees are mostly unaware of their right to a child-care facility on the premises.

What can be done

  • The establishment must take steps to spread awareness about the maternity benefits listed under the Act to its female employees
  • Regular inspections by government officials can ensure that the promised benefits are given to women employees by the establishment.

There are a few more pieces of legislation similar to this Act. The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation Of Employment And Conditions Of Service) Act, 1996; the Factories Act, 1948; and the Plantations Labour Act, 1951 require establishments to provide their women employees with child-care facilities.

States with laws on breastfeeding

Apart from the central laws that are applicable to establishments all over the country, some states have special laws and provisions for breastfeeding mothers. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Uttar Pradesh

The Uttar Pradesh Factories Rules, 1950 states that crèches must be made available to women employees at an accessible place, but away from the factory’s dust and fumes. Each child must have at least 20 sq ft of floor area, and the rooms must have suitable cots and cradles. For older children, there must be a fenced, open-air playground. At least 300ml of clean, pure milk (other refreshments for older children) must be made available to children free of cost each day, and a mother must be allowed two intervals of at least 30 minutes every day to feed her child.

Maharashtra

The Maharashtra Factories Rules, 1963 is similar to the Uttar Pradesh Factories Rules, 1950, providing almost the same benefits for breastfeeding women. The Maharashtra Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 2017 states that establishments with 50 or more employees must have a crèche. A group of establishments can also create or use common crèches, within a radius of 1 km.

Tamil Nadu

According to the Tamil Nadu Handloom Workers (Conditions of Employment and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 and the Tamil Nadu Beedi Industrial Premises (Regulation of Conditions of Work) Act, 1958, handloom and beedi industries employing more than 50 women workers must provide crèches for children under 6 years of age.

Rajasthan

Nursing mothers need to be given two 15-minute nursing breaks a day until the child is 15 months old and extra time to travel to and from the child-care facility, according to the Rajasthan Maternity Benefit Rules, 1967.

The Rajasthan Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1958 states that a woman working in an establishment, after delivery, must be allowed two nursing breaks of 30 minutes each, in addition to regular intervals for rest.

Gujarat

The Gujarat Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 2019 states that a child-care room must be provided in any shop or establishment with 30 or more employees.

West Bengal

The West Bengal Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Rules, 1972 states that two nursing rooms must be provided in establishments where 50 or more women having children are employed as contract workers. One is to be used as a playroom and the other as a bedroom, and the contractor should provide sufficient bedding, cots, and toys. The Labor Commissioner will specify the standard of construction and maintenance of crèches.

Under the West Bengal Factories Rules, 1958, employers should provide crèches with crèche staff and washrooms, and the crèche must maintain an adequate supply of milk, at least 300ml for each child a day.

Do mothers know about these laws?

Were you aware of these laws existent in India? Did you know about the laws benefitting nursing mothers in your state? We asked a few mothers these questions, and this is what they said.

Nabeena Begum, account director at a popular ad agency in Bengaluru, said, “I feel embarrassed that a few years back I was not aware of the breastfeeding laws in our country. In fact, I thought that such laws did not exist in India. Then, I made an effort to read about them, and now I am fully aware of the laws and the benefits we are entitled to, but sadly, many companies in India have not implemented them. Whenever I meet my friends or colleagues, I make it a point to talk about these laws whenever the right situation arises.”

Pallavi Waiker, a mom from Bengaluru, said, “I was working for an IT company when I gave birth to my daughter, Haansika. I was not aware of any breastfeeding laws and entitlements before that. I was on a six-month maternity break, which I then extended to nine months. In my organization, I had access to a day-care center within the campus and a dedicated breastfeeding room. I rejoined work when my daughter was 9 months old but decided to keep her at home under my in-laws’ supervision.”

“Most women are not aware of the existing laws that benefit mother and child. The government should develop programs to create more awareness about these provisions,” said Neha, and we can’t agree more. “Those women who are deprived of these facilities can approach the district administration for help or reach out to women welfare groups in the area,” she added.

Proper awareness of breastfeeding guidelines and laws for nursing mothers can bring about a huge change in the breastfeeding trends in the country. Now that you are aware of these laws and provisions, we are sure you will make an impact this World Breastfeeding Week by spreading the word about them.

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