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Breastfeeding at work - let's stop jerking knees please...

The Daily Mail today published an article by Bridget Harrison - As a nursing mother, the LAST thing I want is to breastfeed my baby by the photocopier and so I thought I would share my slightly different perspective.

As Bridget outlines, a public health White Paper this week encourages more employers to be breastfeeding friendly by being flexible over when breast-feeding women take breaks, provide places where they can pump their breast milk, allow them to go home to feed or even bring their babies into work."


What about the cost, companies can't afford it at the current time!  it will make mothers unemployable! Women will be forced back to the workplace early and with all those bonding hormones going on won't be able to focus on work anyway! 

Before I start tackling some of the employment issues, I thought I would start with some of Bridget's comments (or consequences as she prefers to call them).  Of course Bridget as a nursing mum is entitled to her opinion, but it's also important to realise this isn't the opinion of every nursing mum.
Breastfeeding is exhausting and emotional. Unless you have done it, it is difficult to fully ­understand what an intimate and consuming experience it is.
Breastfeeding in the early weeks can be hard, no doubt about it - but once established it's a lot less exhausting for many than the rigorous formula preparation now advised.  Mothers who return to work co-sleeping and breastfeeding, often report much lower levels of exhaustion than those up a lot with a waking baby.  Realistically having a baby can be exhausting and emotional, regardless of how they are fed.  Breastfeeding only uses the same calories as a gym workout - rather than the equivalent of Superman facing kryptonite!

It seems to me though this isn't about forcing women to breastfeed -  if a mum hates expressing, she is as free to use something else as she ever was.  If she has a hellish commute or nobody to bring the baby in - she doesn't have to!  But not all mums feel the same as Bridget - some feel empowered they can continue to provide milk, happier to return to work knowing baby is still getting it.  Some babies will refuse formula, causing upset and stress for mum if there is no way she can continue to provide milk.

Bridget feels her first child was less clingy because she bottlefed when returning to work, compared to number two who had the "biological tie" and was distressed when she was absent.  The reality is this is far more likely to be about different children!  My first always waved me off with a grin and was happy as larry all day, despite being breastfed!  My second was far more limpet like, because well they have different personalities.  I don't understand how this will force women back to work - most make that decision based on other considerations such as finances.   Bridget herself went back earlier with her second child, she herself says "too early", was that because she could provide breastmilk at work? nope

Breastfeeding is generally so undervalued in our society that I don't often hear of women not returning to work because they breastfeed - instead they are far more likely to not start at all (no point when I'm back to work soon) or wean before they return because their employer may not allow expressing breaks, and this is the crux of the issue.
That said, there are thousands of women who do bravely manage to ­combine breastfeeding with work. 
They carry breast pumps in their ­handbags; slip off discreetly to pump and store the milk in specially designed cooler bags. I support wholeheartedly their right to do so.
But since they are already managing this, why do they need the Government to intervene on their behalf?
At least there's some acknowledgment that despite the anxious, guilt ridden, exhausted, emotional mess that apparently is the working breastfeeding mother - some women "bravely" do both.  But what Bridget seemingly doesn't get is that not all employers are as nice as hers clearly is.  Unlike women in 80 other countries in the world, mothers in the UK have no legal right to express milk or breastfeed during work hours.

Therefore some employers make it really difficult for a mum to continue breastfeeding - in order to support the right of mothers who want to (as Bridget does) this means calling for guidelines that protect this right.  Whilst making informal arrangements with an employer may work for all in an ideal world - the reality is not all employers appreciate the value of breastfeeding and co-operate.

The costs could "cripple" small companies - what a screen, a chair and a coolbox?  sure the mum might get a couple more breaks - but when you consider non breastfeeding mums are absent from the workplace up to 3 times as frequently as non breastfed (due to increased rates of illness in non breastfed children) where's the cost?

In fact, there are a lot of benefits to employers that don't seem to have been considered.  According to the NHS breastfeeding and work leaflet these include:

• Reduced absence due to sickness
• Increased staff morale and loyalty, and a subsequent higher return to work rate
• Lower recruitment and training costs
• An extra incentive to offer potential employees.

The Health Promotion Agency also adds:
Women who breastfeed are healthier and are less likely to suffer certain serious illnesses, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer or osteoporosis.

The HPA make suggestions very similar to this as to how you can choose to combine working and feeding:

• If you can arrange childcare for your baby close to where you work, you could breastfeed during breaks and immediately before and after work.

• You could continue to breastfeed at home and then express milk while at work. This way you will be able to keep up your milk supply and your baby can be fed your milk from a cup or a bottle.

• You could ask to work flexible hours outside the times your baby would need fed. Alternatively, you might be able to reduce your hours for a short time, just until your baby needs fewer breastfeeds.

• Or you could combine breastfeeding with formula feeds. This would mean continuing to breastfeed when at home and then your baby having formula when you are at work.

So the HPA obviously don't think these ideas are so "out there" they are ridicule worthy.
Earlier in the year President Obama amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), by requiring employers to provide nursing or breastfeeding employees with reasonable break time to express their breast milk.  If as Bridget feels most employers are happy to informally negotiate this anyway, what's the big deal?
As we understand more about the implications of premature weaning from the breast to health, the economy and the environment - it's absolutely right the government look to reflect this in their policies.  Otherwise like much else, it's nothing more than lip service. 


  1. We do have a legal right to express in work time - it's simply not an employment right but part of the employers duty of care under health and safety. It's existed a long time, and is 'powerful' enough :)

  2. Yes it's covered to some degree under H&S - if you were potentially claiming that your employers actions were making you unable to breastfeed which presented a hazard. But having to attempt that is NOT the same as a direct legal right to express milk during working hours is it?

    HSE recommends that it is good practice for employers to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for nursing mothers to express and store milk, plus time paid to express - but states this is NOT a legal requirement.

    This greyness is reflected in information from other sources:

    Twins UK Reads:
    There is no clear right to breastfeed when you are at work. But there is an obligation on employers to provide breastfeeding workers with rest facilities. The European Commission has also published guidelines which recommend that employers provide access to a private room. a fridge for storing milk and time off to breastfeed. Unfortunately. these guidelines do not have any legal force to them. but employers who aim for good practice may be keen to adopt them.

    BfN also states that it's hard to enforce H&S law. as As Health and Safety legislation is enforced either by the H&A Executive or by Environment Health Offices at the local authority. Officers have the power to visit workplaces and can issue improvement/prohibition notices. In practice it may be difficult to get them to do so because they are over stretched.

  3. Camilla Cavendish in The Times expressed similar sentiments. Very, very depressing.

  4. I think legislation is needed. When I expressed after my return to work (I had to return after 6 months of maternity leave) there were no adequate provisions, though the employer was supportive. Not having the legal backing, I didn't feel I could demand extra breaks for expressing (I needed 3 x 30 mins, but only having 60 mins of a lunch break allocated that I could use, this wasn't possible). I tried with 3x20 mins, didn't express enough, but also had no break for food and to recharge my own batteries. I was so worn out that I stopped expressing after 3 months. With a right to adequate breaks I would have continued longer, so yes, bring it on.

  5. While H&S legislation is not all that is needed, if a mother is breastfeeding or or less fulltime, she needs to express, even if she were to throw the milk away, to avoid mastitis [and perhaps an abscess.

    While I don't want to link going to the loo and breastfeeding, in years gone by when factory workers had restricted access to loos, they did suffer from bladder and kidney problems as they tried to drink less so they didnt need to go so often.

    This was seen [eventually] as a health risk, on purely this level it is a H&S issue, which is not u nderstood by many outside of breastfeeding support. Just recently on the radio someone said why do women need to express at work, can't they do it before they go out in the morning. Again, not wanting to make too much of the peeing analogy, what would that person say if someone said they ought to go pee before they went to work so that they wouldn't need to go again? Such people do often use the peeing in public analogy when breastfeeeding in public is mentioned [ just because i't natural so is peeing, should I be allowed to pee in public?] so perhaps it might help them understand that breasts do fill up.

    Imagine an employer who would not let a pregnant woman take a break from dangerous work, they would risk prosecution, while we wait it would be good if more employers were reminded of their obligations to all.

  6. Where I work, smokers come out quite regularly for a cigarrete (even though you cannot even smoke in the outside area as I work in a hospital). That seems to be fully accepted but everyone but whenever they talk about women and breastfeeding people go up in arms.

    And what is it with these journalists who are breastfeeding but have negative views (or write negative articles) about it?

  7. Quite! It seems that getting a good breastfeeding article published is almost impossible, whilst they're gagging for negative stuff. Perhaps given only 4% of mums are exclusive at 6 months, they have more interest in ensuring "they don't make their readership feel guilty" (note the speech marks!) than actually presenting factual information?

  8. Your post so nice well in this post good tips share Breastfeeding at work well done work. I like it seems that getting a good breastfeeding article published is almost possible Imagine an employer who would not let a pregnant woman take a break from dangerous work so nice or informative post.

  9. I'm 20, I breastfeed and I work full time. I find it quiet manageable. My daughter is at daycare from 7.30am - 4.30pm with one feed at 12.30 which is either an expressed bottle or I drive to feed her in my lunch break. Breastfeeding babies usually adapt to the hours that mum can provide i.e. my daughter used to nurse every hour but only small amounts, however now that I am at work she has 4-5hrs inbetween milk feeds she just has a much larger amount. Milk supplies also adapt, I haven't found a drop in my supply at all, and after only a week my supply had evened out. I think too many women put an emphasis on keeping their routine the same when they go back to work which is for the most part impractical - it's bound to change - there are different timings to meet, places to be.

    It is also impractical for breastfeeding women to expect too much from their employers who need their employees to be able to meet a certain expectation. Employers should be supportive and work with employee's to find that happy medium.



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