Cozy new nursing rooms in Central American Cargill facilities support moms, babies 

By Amanda Halbersma March 08, 2016

The parents of newborns have plenty of things to balance and it can at times feel overwhelming and cause worry. But in Latin America, mothers like Cargill employee Sofia Ceron Rosales are feeling confident that their babies are getting a healthy start, thanks to a new Cargill program that makes room for their needs.

In 2015, the Central American Cargill’s Women’s Network and Environmental Health and Safety teams started a movement to establish lactation rooms in plants and office buildings in Latin America. 

So far, 11 lactation rooms have been built in Central America – including seven in Costa Rica, one in Guatemala and three in Honduras – and more are in the works. Where just under a year ago, women of childbearing age working in Cargill’s Central American locations had no designated place for pumping and storing breastmilk, now about 40 percent can access these “salas a nuestras mamas” or “rooms for new moms.” Cargill locations in Brazil and Argentina have also built new nursing rooms, and more are planned in Mexico. Officials from the national governments of Costa Rica and Brazil have recognized the effort.

“If I didn’t have the opportunity to use a lactation room, I would have probably had to stop earlier than I had planned in the breastfeeding of my child,” said Rosales, the mother of 7-month-old Santiago Zavala, and a production planner at the Pronorsa poultry plant in Honduras. She was first in line to use her facility’s lactation room. 

inpage-central-america-lactation-roomSofia Ceron Rosales, mother of 7-month-old Santiago Zavala, was first in line to use the lactation room at Cargill’s Pronorsa poultry plant in Honduras where she works as a production planner.“I, for one, think that breastfeeding is essential for my baby to have proper growth and health. So I think these rooms are a great idea and opportunity for women in this location, so they can feel comfortable at work and be happy that they can provide daily fresh milk to their babies.”
Global Diversity and Business Impact Lead Blanca Villela, of Cargill Human Resources, said that Cargill’s Latin American women’s networks proposed the lactation rooms as a way to address parity issues and overcome some of the barriers women face in the workplace. Not many employers in the region offer private spaces for nursing moms, leaving them with uncomfortable options if they want to return to work and continue to breastfeed. This effort also is in line with Cargill’s commitment to the Nutrition for Growth Compact, which includes promotion of maternal health and support for breastfeeding mothers in its workforce. 

“This is about influencing an inclusive and flexible culture, promoting work-life balance and wellness, and offering support for employees,” Blanca said. “Company leaders were very on board, and really engaged with the process.”

Luis Rivera, manager of operations for Cargill in Costa Rica, was an early proponent of the idea. He had heard about a colleague who had to use a bathroom stall to pump milk for her baby at work. He knew that Cargill was the type of company that would want to provide better experiences for its employees. So he adopted the slogan of Cargill’s Central American Women’s Network inclusion and diversity program –“Hazquesuceda” – and helped “make it happen.” 

“This is something that will make Cargill attractive to women in the workforce,” he said, noting that competition for employees is heavy in Costa Rica, and many female employees work long shifts at the packing plants, sometimes at night and on holidays, to make important contributions to their household incomes. “The rooms are really cozy, and they have music, so it is a good experience, a relaxing time for them. It’s not just a chair and a fridge.” 

During World Breastfeeding Week in August, the First Lady of the Republic in Costa Rica, Mercedes Peña, recognized Pipasa Corporation/Cargill Costa Rica for its efforts, through the Minister of Health and the National Breastfeeding Commission. During the same week of international issue awareness, Brazil’s Ministry of Health recognized the program at Cargill, along with about 200 other Brazilian companies that are supporting working women with similar initiatives. 

In addition to the national award, Rivera said that Cargill’s Costa Rican employee engagement scores have increased by ten points in the past year, a notable uptick that he unofficially attributes to the new lactation rooms. He is aware of the studies that show that not only are lactation rooms good for employee retention, they can help employees maintain productivity. Breastfeeding is said to decrease employee absences associated with caring for a sick child, since it has short- and long-term health benefits for both children and women.

Kira Hasbun, a Regional Innovation Coordinator for CMCA Pipasa in Costa Rica, said the new rooms have been very popular for moms like her. To continually nurse her first child through infancy, she had to drive home during her lunch hour or pump breastmilk in the bathrooms. Now she is happy to use her facility’s lactation room for her newborn, and attests that the rooms are “very well-equipped,” and “beautiful.” 

“For me and my family these rooms have made a big difference,” she said.