World Breastfeeding Week 1-7 August 2015 Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s make it work!
A Joint Statement from La Leche League GB, The Breastfeeding Network, Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain and Maternity Action.
This year the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) theme for World Breastfeeding Week. (WBW) aims to empower and support all women to adequately combine work with child-rearing, and particularly breastfeeding.
Much has been achieved in the 22 years since the 1993 WBW campaign on the Mother-Friendly Workplace initiative, with stronger maternity entitlements, and more countries improving national laws and practices. Yet, the fourth target of the Innocenti Declaration 1990 aiming “to enact imaginative legislation protecting the breastfeeding rights of working women and establish means for its enforcement” is still proving difficult to meet.
Supporting a mother’s choices
La Leche League GB, the Breastfeeding Network, the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain and Maternity Action support WABA’s call for improved legislation for women returning to the workplace while continuing to breastfeed.
Introducing legislation to support women continuing to breastfeed on return to paid work will have positive results for both employer and employee. It has been shown that breastfeed babies are sick less often than formula fed babies so parents take fewer days off, that women who feel their employer is supportive are more likely to return to work, and employees working in companies which accommodate breastfeeding have higher morale, higher productivity and overall satisfaction.
However it is also important to acknowledge that staying at home with children remains a positive choice for many mothers. Even though culturally, returning to work may be the accepted thing to do, once a baby arrives returning to paid work may no longer seem so attractive or straightforward. Whether a woman returns to paid work or decides to stay at home she needs support and encouragement in the choice she makes for herself and her family.
Returning to paid work affects feeding choices
Balancing work and family life, including breastfeeding, is increasingly necessary in today’s society and at the moment many women face difficult choices after they have had a baby. Women may not envisage breastfeeding beyond a few months as they think it will be incompatible with their daily lives. They may make a decision on when to wean based on issues like work culture or cultural expectations generally.
Having positive information about the ways breastfeeding can continue after returning to paid work, mothers knowing they can ask for breastfeeding breaks and flexible working hours could make all the difference to weaning plans.
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.
Mothers talk about returning to paid work
Nicole is a teacher in a nursery:
“I had a very mixed experience with the same baby but two different jobs which just goes to show how important employer support is. In my first job, I had sent in my letter detailing my needs for extra breaks and a private space to pump. Nothing was offered, no one came to check I had what I needed. I ended up pumping in my classroom behind a cupboard door!
I got a new post a few months later. I was able to go out each lunch time and feed her at the nursery. The nursery was very welcoming and would take her sleeping from my lap and settle her for a nap as I left. The school were accommodating by not scheduling any lunchtime duties for me and understanding on the odd occasion if I was a few minutes late back. It can be done, and with supportive employers enabling a positive return to work, I was able to feed my daughter until she stopped at 3yrs old.”
Laura is mum who manages a number of employees:
“I was thoroughly supported by work when I went back at 6 months. I shared an office with one person who was very supportive so I was able to express at my desk. This worked well, and I was fully supported by management.
However it was my own employees that were not supportive, making comments that I was not visible or there for them during the half hour I was expressing. This was a real disappointment, especially considering the main culprit was supposedly pro-breastfeeding and had supported me on a personal level in the early days. I felt very under pressure, feeling vulnerable with it being my first, and eventually stopped as a result. This added to the PND I was also trying to overcome.
I am currently off with my second baby and I plan to express at work when I go back. My managers will be great again, but if my team are still unsupportive I feel strong enough to continue despite their negative attitude.”
The Aims of World Breastfeeding Week
One of the aims of WBW is to galvanise support from all sectors to enable women to work and continue to breastfeed safely and adequately. WABA state that women need at least six monthspaid maternity leave, and the option of flexible working. They need childcare close to or at the workplace and facilities for expressing and storing breastmilk. Thirdly they need a positive attitude from employers towards pregnancy, motherhood and breastfeeding, to know they have job security and will not be discriminated against on the grounds of maternity and breastfeeding.
Support for paid work and breastfeeding in GB
Globally there are vast differences in legislation to support women returning to paid work. In the USA the norm is to return to work after only a few weeks, yet a recent report showed that 49% of mums there are breastfeeding at six months (18% exclusively breastfeeding at six months). In California, a state with strong employment laws, the figures are higher. This compares to around 1% exclusively breastfeeding at six month in the UK. Mothers in the United States tend to expect to have to combine breastfeeding/pumping while working.
In the UK there have been some improvements, but new mothers need far more support in the workplace to improve rates of breastfeeding and child health. The absence of effective legal protection for breastfeeding in the workplace means women are likely to stop breastfeeding after they return to work, even if they want to continue.
Changes to the law are needed to give mothers the right to breastfeeding breaks, which should be paid, and the right to facilities to breastfeed and store expressed milk. The European Union has called for new mothers to be allowed up to two hours a day to breastfeed.
Filling in gaps in legislation and implementing them will need collaboration with trade unions, workers, women’s groups, local government, and employers. Getting support from family and/or a partner helps a mother feel confident in her ability to combine breastfeeding and working.
Today’s global economic and labour conditions are rapidly changing and making sure women have the support they need to continue to breastfeed when they decide to return to work is an important and positive step for society.
There are several sources of support for mothers who are thinking about their return to work and who may want to discuss this with someone:
National Breastfeeding Helpline: 0300 100 0212 (run by the Breastfeeding Network and Association of Breastfeeding Mothers)
LLLGB Helpline: 0845 120 2918
NCT Helpline: 0300 330 0700
Maternity Action Helpline: 0845 600 8533
Sources of information
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) guide for employers on breastfeeding breaks in the workplace.
LLL GB leaflets to help women thinking about returning to paid work.
Working and Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher.