Breastfeeding at work

Breastfeeding at work: What you need to know

Written for Bloomfield Harris Workplace Wellbeing published 6 March 2019.

In honour of International Women’s Day on Friday I wanted to highlight a significant issue for working mothers. Last week the Huffington Post shared the results of a large survey conducted by Slater and Gordon maternity discrimination specialists. They questioned 2000 mothers who breastfed in the last 5 years. Their findings revealed appalling situations that working mothers are facing:

  • 33% of women had to express milk in the toilet
  • 40% didn’t have a suitable place to express milk, women reported having to express at their desk, in the staffroom, during meetings or in their car
  • 20% didn’t have anywhere to store their expressed milk
  • Many found their employers to be embarrassed by the situation
  • 30% of women stopped breastfeeding earlier than they would have liked because of anxiety, difficulties with supply and infection

How does your organisation compare?

Slater and Gordon and charity Maternity Action provide lots of helpful advice. Maternity Action state an employer must carry out a risk assessment if an employee returns to work before 6 months or if you are informed in writing that the employee is breastfeeding. As a sensible and caring employer consider the following questions and what can be done to improve in order to support working mothers.

  • Where can your employees express milk? If you don’t have a mother and baby room is there a first aid room or a private room with a lockable door?
  • Where can employees safely store their milk?
  • When can they express? Are they limited to existing breaks or can you offer flexibility and split breaks or change break times?
  • Are you really considering flexible working requests? Women returning to work may need this to help with breastfeeding.

Maternity Action also provide lots of helpful suggestions on how employers can meet employee needs and comply with the law. Employers must provide: health and safety protection, flexible working, protection from sex discrimination, rest facilities and protection from harassment.

Why supporting mothers is a good idea…

  • Mothers already suffer financially, their earnings take a 7% cut per child, this increases if they are married
  • Better multitaskers: Microsoft found that 2/3 of women were better at multitasking after having children
  • Increased loyalty: Google improved their maternity pay and had 50% more retention
  • Improved productivity: Krapf et al. found that mothers were more productive than other employees
  • Taking care of employee wellbeing leads to more innovation, higher quality work, more motivation and loyalty, improved relationships and better employee physical and mental health

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