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Umzanyana – securing workplace nursing

Securing a safe nursing environment for mothers working informally in public space, so they can better connect with their newborn babies.

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni
19 27

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In no more than 3 sentences, please tell us who your idea is designed for and how it reimagines the new life experience.

The lack of income security and the challenge of bringing their newborn baby to the workplace, are issues which stress informal worker mothers and negatively impact maternal health. The Umzanyana (‘baby caretaker’) is a multi-use 'baby box', adapted from a market storage box, which allows mothers to create a controlled environment for their newborn baby in the workplace. This facilitates workplace nursing and bonding, which is beneficial for both mother and baby in the first 6 months of new-life

Directly translated from isiZulu “umzanyana” means ‘umbilical cord’, an instrument of connection that allows the mother to give the baby what it needs. As an extension, it also refers to a close family member who acts as a wet nurse or baby sitter, who helps the mother take care of her new born child.

In Sub-Saharan Africa 74% of workers in the informal economy are women, of which pregnant mothers are most vulnerable. Due to a lack of income security, informal worker mothers experience high stress levels, which negatively affect both maternal and child health. Another factor which can contribute to this anxiety is the inadequate provision of workplace infrastructure and basic services for informal traders (e.g. shelter and furniture), making the workplace environment difficult for an expectant mother or their new born child.

The umzanyana is a multifunctional wooden storage box and work tool, which would be transformed into a temporary baby nursery. It would function as the existing storage furniture used by the informal worker mother to store her goods at night and would optimise on the potential to be used as a curbside nursery throughout the day (when it is usually unused). 

This intervention would provide the mother with practical support, as a ‘helping hand’ which holds the baby at intervals, allowing the baby to be in constant close proximity to the mother, whilst she is working. It would also provide a surface and appropriate environment for nursing and activities between mother and child, such as changing diapers and playing etc.

Essentially, the intervention would be a locally produced kit-of-parts, such as a soft sponge for the baby to sleep on and line the inside of the box, sheets for the baby to sleep on, a mobile to stimulate the growing baby and a form of protection from the elements etc. This kit would be issued to the mother over a 6 month period, by a community health worker who would also act as a roving nurse, visiting the mothers with babies at their worksite.

The sustainability and value added by this infrastructural intervention would arise from the development a holistic program which incorporates the production of the baby boxes into the existing ecosystem. This could include manufacturing by the local carpenter, sewing of various components by local seamstresses, and soft resources such as community health workers and a general sense of community awareness of the baby to better support the mother and baby.

In acknowledging that for many women traders, bringing their child to work is the only option, it is critical to optimize the available technology and infrastructure to provide support to these vulnerable mothers.

At what stage is your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Wooden storage boxes are currently being used as a locally manufactured work tool by informal workers. We are investigating ways to make these boxes more multifunctional to meet the needs of informal trader mothers with newborn babies at their workplace. We would locally source a kit of parts, such as padding, sheets, and a baby mobile to retrofit on an existing storage box, that mothers could evaluate and give a preliminary critique on.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Advice on complementary health services and products to support our infrastructural and community-centered intervention, which acknowledge the contextual needs of the urban informal economy, in order to ensure a holistically enhanced nurturing experience of the baby (by the mother and the community).

Tell us about your work experience:

Asiye eTafuleni is a Durban based NGO, established in 2008 “to support informal traders and others who use public spaces for their work, by providing design and development expertise”. In partnership with WHO, we are currently researching breastfeeding amongst informal worker mothers with infants.

This idea emerged from...

  • An organization or company

Are you an expecting, new, or experienced mom?

  • yes

Are you a healthcare practitioner?

  • no

Are you a current employee of UCB Pharmaceuticals or Sutter Health?

  • no


Join the conversation:

Photo of Pauline Conley

Asiye eTafuleni has a beautiful way of looking at what exists and making it better in ways that are impactful and sustainable. This is another example of combining design and development to create a solution that is truly grassroots and relevant. Thanks for the continued inspiration!

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