At the moment many women face difficult choices after they have had a baby. They may have agreed to return to work when their baby is six or nine months old, and while that can seem a long way off before the birth, LLLGB has found that many women feel it comes round all too quickly. While they are enjoying breastfeeding and want to continue, many mothers feel concerned about how they will manage when they go back to paid work.
Some mothers feel they are committed to returning to work and that they have no choice but to wean their babies. Breastfeeding breaks and flexible working hours could make all the difference to them. There can also be considerable pressure on women to go back to paid work even though they would love to be at home for longer and this is an area where women also deserve support.
How employers can support breastfeeding women
In February 2014 La Leche League GB (LLLGB) reported on a new guide for employers on breastfeeding breaks in the workplace, produced by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).[i] Representatives from LLLGB, along with other breastfeeding organisations, provided input for this guide and they have since then continued to work with Maternity Action to develop further resources.
Maternity Action subsequently produced a leaflet for employers entitled Accommodating breastfeeding on return to work.[ii] Although Parliament has still not legislated to make breastfeeding/expressing breaks in the workplace a statutory requirement, employers must meet obligations to breastfeeding employees under Health and Safety Law, Flexible Working Law and Discrimination Law.
While the law does not require employers to conduct an individual risk assessment for a breastfeeding mother, they must assess risks to new and expectant mothers arising from working conditions. They must take reasonable action to remove or reduce risks, and providing employees with breaks to breastfeed or express can be part of this effort.
Employers are required by law to provide a breastfeeding mother with a place to rest, which could also be used as a room to breastfeed or express. It is also recommended that employers provide washing facilities and a clean secure fridge to store milk.
Flexible Working Requests
If a woman has worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks she can make a request for flexible working hours. She can ask for changes to her days, hours or place of work, or to work shorter shifts, to work part-time or move from evening or night shifts to day in order to continue breastfeeding.
The employer is legally required to give the request serious consideration and can only refuse for good business reasons. The employer and employee can agree to a temporary change in contract while she is breastfeeding.
It is good practice for an employer to have a policy on breastfeeding setting out how employees can make requests and how these would be considered. It’s also a good idea for women to make a flexible working request at least two to three months before returning from maternity leave, or to start discussing options during pregnancy. Sorting out breastfeeding breaks at least three weeks before the woman returns to work will help to adjust her breastfeeding routine.
Equality Act 2010
Under the Equality Act 2010 it is sex discrimination to fail to assess or take action on health and safety risks for a breastfeeding woman where the work could involve risks with serious consequences for mother or baby.
It is also sex discrimination to harass a breastfeeding employee or to fail to take action to stop other staff members from harassing her. This can include jokes and banter.
It is indirect sex discrimination under the Equality Act for an employer to refuse a flexible working request from a breastfeeding mother if there are not good business reasons for the refusal, and if it results in the mother stopping breastfeeding.
Providing breastfeeding or expressing breaks has positive results for both employer and employee. It has been shown that breastfed babies are sick less often than formula fed babies, so parents take fewer days off. The Maternity Action leaflet says that parents of breastfed babies have one-third the absences of parents of formula fed babies. This saves companies money.
The leaflet states that women who felt their employer was supportive were more likely to return to work, saving in recruitment costs and lost output from staff turnover.
Employees working in companies which accommodate breastfeeding have also been found to have higher morale, higher productivity and overall satisfaction.
Information from LLLGB
You can find more information about working and breastfeeding here:
You may also be interested in reading the book Working and Breastfeeding Made Simple[iii] by LLL Leader Nancy Mohrbacher.
Written by Anna Burbidge for LLLGB, February 2018
[i] Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Accommodating breastfeeding employees in the workplace. October 2013; http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/2/i/Acas-guide-on-accommodating-breastfeeding-in-the-workplace.pdf (accessed on 2 March 2018).
[ii] Maternity Action. Accommodating breastfeeding on return to work. https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/BORTW-employer-leaflet-FINAL.pdf (accessed 2 March 2018).
[iii] Nancy Mohrbacher. Working and Breastfeeding Made Simple. Praeclarus Press, 2014.