As we wrap World Breastfeeding Week 2015, I’m joining in with Emm Jane Maternity’s World Breastfeeding Week carnival, on this year’s theme of working mums and breastfeeding. They are also supporting this post with a giveaway of one of their Next Generation breastfeeding bras.
I gave little thought to breastfeeding when I was pregnant, much thought to returning to work after maternity leave, and no thought to breastfeeding when I did. Breastfeeding at work was something that didn’t even enter my mind. However, before I left the maternity ward after giving birth, I saw this NHS leaflet about breastfeeding and work and it got me thinking.
I was pleased to learn that my employers have certain legal obligations towards me as a breastfeeding mother. I especially noted that I had to write, in advance, to inform them of my intention to continue breastfeeding at work when I returned from maternity leave.
I understood from the leaflet that I could:
- expect suitable facilities to rest
- ask for flexible hours because I was breastfeeding
- ask for fridge space to store pumped milk
- expect a healthy, safe, and private place to store my milk
- expect breaks for the purpose of expressing milk (and I assumed to directly feed)
- expect a clean, warm, and private room for expressing (and I assumed to directly feed)
- expect a specific risk assessment once I informed them that I’m breastfeeding as a working mum
It looked good and I felt empowered in combining a key aspect of my new role as mum, and my job as a teacher. Unfortunately, this feeling only lasted until my return to work meeting. My employer wasn’t unreasonable, there are just too many grey areas in the law. In cases like this, each party is bound to hold on to what gives them the most advantage and the more powerful party, the employer, usually wins the day. Except of course, the employee is willing to go down the formal grievance route and deal with all the palaver associated with that.
I tell you, I will do things differently if I could do it all over again.
Below are 5 things to keep in mind about making breastfeeding at work, work for you.
1. Know and understand your legal rights
Mothers have a right to continue breastfeeding when they return to work after maternity leave; yes indeed. However, the practical reality of this has to be negotiated with your employer. Some things are required of employers but other things are just recommendations.
Also how employers implement the requirements and recommendations vary widely. Some companies actually have lactation rooms that are fully equipped to support mums to adequately continue their breastfeeding journey whilst working. This is probably more common in the US than the UK, where paid maternity leave is much shorter and women tend to return to work earlier. Other companies have not even given any thought to the support they will give to employees who are breastfeeding when they return to work after maternity leave.
I’d like to go into more detail about what are actually legal rights and what are recommendations, but I can’t. I find the information I’ve come upon confusing. Some of what seems to be stated as legal in the NHS leaflet above for example, is specified as recommendations in another reputable source.
Below are links you can consult to develop your understanding of the rights of breastfeeding mums at work.
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE): new and expectant mothers’ guidance
- Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS): pregnancy and maternity discrimination and employers on working with breastfeeding mums
- NHS Choices breastfeeding and returning to work
- Maternity Action: breastfeeding rights
- NCT: breastfeeding and returning to work
- La Leche League GB’s on breastfeeding breaks at work
2. Consider the application of the law to you
As previously stated, there is variation in how employers support breastfeeding employees. I think it’s helpful to think about your work place and how they could support you before going to your return to work meeting.
The NHS leaflet puts the onus on employers to ensure that employees are aware of their breastfeeding policy before they start their maternity leave. This would have made a world of difference to me, in formulating my expectation about what the law and guidelines actually mean for me on my return to work. Next time round, I’ll be sure to ask for the policy if it’s not given.
It might be worth contacting your area union rep to ask for advice; it is very likely they would have supported other mums in a similar situation.
It is so important for your emotional and mental well-being to have realistic expectations about the support your employer will give you.
3. Decide the support you need
You do not want to go into your return to work meeting without any idea of the support you need from your employer. And you know what? It might be worth going in with your area union rep; your work union rep might be too close to the situation.
Consider your child’s needs from the point when you will return to work, and not the current place on your breastfeeding journey. I know this is very difficult for first-time mums like me especially.
For example, I was spending hours on breastfeeding and pumping when I went for my return to work meeting and my employer based their response to me on this. I really wanted them to base it on where I’ll probably be on my breastfeeding journey when I actually returned to work.
4. Make Breastfeeding at work, work for you
Don’t shy away from suggesting an arrangement that isn’t on your employer’s radar. At the end of the day, it’s your body, your child, your breastfeeding journey, your emotional and mental health, and your work; right? Your employer are not in your shoes, you are; so you’ve got to find a way to make it work within what is allowed.
So for example, if you feel you can’t rely on your employer to come through with aspects of your agreement, think outside the box and suggest other ways to make it work for you.
In my case, instead of waiting for a pumping / feeding space to be created for me, I decided to experiment with going home during my break and lunch to breastfeed. Of course it meant that I couldn’t work the way I was used to but it is a price worth paying for me.
5. Review the reality, and feedback to your employer
In the ideal world, your employer will schedule meetings with you to see how you’re getting on with your agreed arrangements. Breastfeeding journeys are not static, they change throughout their duration; definitely in the length of each feed and its frequency.
So, if what you agreed isn’t working or needs to change, meet with your employer as soon as possible to make changes that will work for both of you. The happier you are at work, the more your job satisfaction, the better your output.
I hope these helps as you work towards making breastfeeding at work, work for you. Do let me know if you have any questions; I’m happy to share from my experience.
What else do you think can be done to make breastfeeding at work, work for mums returning from maternity leave?
Enter the Giveaway.
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