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World Breastfeeding Week: How employers can support breastfeeding mothers on their return to work

  • Publish Date: Posted about 2 months ago
  • Author:by MERJE

The beginning of August marks World Breastfeeding Week, which looks at ways to inform, anchor, engage and galvanise action on breastfeeding and related issues.

This is particularly significant for people who are returning to work after maternity leave and want to find ways to continue breastfeeding their baby.

Many of them will inevitably feel stressed or daunted at the prospect of re-entering the workplace after spending weeks or months at home looking after an infant around the clock.

At MERJE, aligned with our MERJE Together pledge, we believe that organisations should therefore take the time to listen and understand the difficulties and challenges which parents might face and implement measures which make the back to work transition as smooth as possible.

In fact, workplace regulations require employers to provide suitable facilities where pregnant and breastfeeding parents can rest and take breaks. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that it's good practice for employers to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk.

Without these basic break time and space accommodations, breastfeeding parents may be unable to produce adequate milk to meet their babies’ nutritional needs and also run the risk of developing infections and illness or stopping breastfeeding earlier than their doctors recommend.

Here’s how businesses can show they care by helping breastfeeding parents.

Make your stance clear

Sending the message out across the entire business that senior staff members support nursing parents goes a long way toward ensuring that their needs are given the respect required by law and best practice. Peer support programs are another way to cultivate a positive environment for breastfeeding parents.

Offer breastfeeding breaks

The law doesn’t currently give the right to time off for breastfeeding breaks or to express milk. This, however, shouldn’t prevent employers from making sure they provide sufficient rest breaks so that women can continue to take plenty of fluids and nutrition while breastfeeding.

Most nursing parents need two to three breaks during an eight-hour workday, depending on their baby’s feeding schedule. Expressing breast milk typically takes 15 to 20 minutes per session and some additional time is needed to get to and from the lactation space, set up the pump, disassemble and clean up and store the milk.

Bearing this in mind, talk to the mothers in question about the timing of their rest and lunch breaks as it may be possible to breastfeed or express milk during that time.

Encourage flexible working

Offer temporary changes to hours, days or even the place of work, such as allowing it to happen from home, as a way to ease the transition. The latter option was, of course, accelerated universally as a result of COVID and is now an accepted new normal across virtually the entire working population. This means that it shouldn’t, as a result of the current climate, be too much of a stretch for businesses to accommodate.

Provide private facilities for breastfeeding or expressing

By law, employers must provide a suitable place for breastfeeding mothers to rest. The Approved Code of Practice issued by the HSE says that this should include the ability to lie down and this obligation lasts as long as the mother wishes to continue breastfeeding.

The type of rest room that is available is likely to vary but employers need to also offer a suitable place in which to express milk. Employers don’t have to provide facilities for mothers to breastfeed but the HSE says that it is good practice for employers to provide a clean, lockable room, washing amenities, comfortable seating and a clean fridge for expressing and storing milk. Toilets are not regarded as a suitable place.

Employers should recognise that supporting and encouraging breastfeeding in the workplace will benefit them as well. A parent might be swayed towards leaving a business without the support and extra amenities they require for breastfeeding. This, in turn, results in the loss of a valued team member and having to hire and train a replacement person for the vacated role.

Creating a comfortable environment leads to a happier, more motivated workforce, all while forging better relationships between employers and employees.

The NHS website has more information for employers and mothers about returning to work while breastfeeding. We have also explored the topic in more detail in our previous article: Maternal Mental Health Matters.

If you would like to discuss this or any of the topics covered in our articles, get in touch.