5 Things to Make Breastfeeding at Work, Work

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.

WBW15 theme b

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.

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.

BF at Wrk Wrk3. 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.

Linkup: #BreastfeedingandIAdventures of a Novice Mum
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First-time Mum / Freelance Writer / Thinker / Educator / Business graduate / Improving Photographer / so much more. \\ Recording my mu-m-sings from the South East of England | Sharing lessons from my life's journey to encourage and inspire | Filled with gratitude for my faith, family, and friends.

36 thoughts on “5 Things to Make Breastfeeding at Work, Work

  1. Some really good advice here! Thank you, just like you, I hadn’t really considered breastfeeding when I’ve thought about going back to work. It just never crossed my mind but now it’s getting closer, I’m starting to realise just how dependant my child is on me, it’s not about me anymore, it’s about my child and her needs. Whether it’s just a feed for comfort rather than nutrition, I want to be the one that comforts her. I wasn’t aware that the NHS recommends flexible hours for those breastfeeding and will certainly include this in my application for flexible hours.

    • Thanks. Yeah, our little ones needs us, sometimes more than we realise; and indeed for a range of reasons. I think the law now allows everyone to ask for flexible working hours. Breastfeeding mums are definitely entitled to request for this, I think. All the best as you work out what’s best for you in this area ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Great read. While I will not be returning to work for a while I have had a few contact hours and was lucky in that my employers gladly gave me extra ‘pump’ breaks as and when I said I needed. Although they were most surprised on my first day back that I was still ‘going at it’ in terms to feeding my 9 week old! Yes. I still consider my baby to need mummy’s milk! At the ripe old age of 49 days. Discussion like this is needed and more laws need to be in place to protect the employee’s right to feed their child!
    tess recently posted…World breast feeding awareness week.My Profile

    • So lovely they’ve given you extra pump breaks as and why you need it! So much more education is needed; my word, what do they expect your 9 week old to be eating? Yeah, we need clearer laws in place to protect mums right to breastfeeding their child when they return to work after maternity leave. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. This is such a fantastic post, I found out things I never knew, for me I didn’t return to work because I couldn’t see how I could breastfeed while working. I think it is so important to know your rights as an employee but like you say the employer always seems to win. You give some great advice and i am sure this post will help many new working/breastfeeding mums x

    • Thanks Tanita. There so needs to be more publicity about mums’ right to breastfeeding as working mums. The practical reality of this is of course another story. I hope more woman can make breastfeeding, work with their work. It’s definitely helpful to know what you entitled to in theory and have time to consider how it might apply in practice. Thanks for your lovely comment and share :-).

  4. My previous employer provided a childcare room for you to bring in your own nanny so you could breastfeed on your breaks if you desired.

  5. Thanks for this post! I know a few people who are soon to go back to work and are still breastfeeding so I will be pointing them this way x

  6. Great read with very good points! I never knew what employer were expected to consider and allow for breastfeeding employees!

    • Absolutely. I think it’s worth talking to your union rep, even if you think your employer is receptive. It’s really good to understand where your place in the law; this helps with forming realistic expectations. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. This has been really useful, as I’m returning to work in November and was in 2 minds as to whether or not to continue to breast feed. This has just helped me make my mind up.

  8. I found this post very helpful and detailed, thank you! I should be reading more regards the legal rights. I wish there a law stating exactly what we are entitled for, just like other European countries x

  9. Im not too sure because I haven’t had to go to work whilst feeding, but I think finding the support from other breast feeding mums is what I would do ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I decided to be a stay at home, so didnt need to worry much about this, but had i returned to work i cant imagine it would have been easy to find a private room to express (all open plan – floor to ceiling windows style offices).

    • Good for you … many more mums would love the opp to stay at home for much longer than maternity leave affords. Open plan offices are definitely not conducive for pumping; I would like to think that employers with this set up will make adequate provision to support their breastfeeding employees on their breastfeeding journey.

  11. Oh such great tips! Really wish I had got this far on my breastfeeding feeding journey! But what great advice for those who are!

  12. Some fab advice here thank you! I found the thought of so many fiery hoops at work really daunting. My Daughter is now 10 months and I have just returned back to work. I now breastfeed her in the evenings and sometimes the mornings. I will also feed on demand when I am at home. It’s a shame that it is so hard to find ways to be a working Mum. x x

    • O yes, it’s definitely challenging being a working mum, and even more being a working breastfeeeding mum (I think). ๐Ÿ™‚ Employers really need to put more effort into making the work place breastfeeding friendly; there’s so much in it for them to do this. So lovely that you found a way to make it work for both of you and your daughter. Do you pump at work? Amazing how our bodies adjust, isn’t it ๐Ÿ™‚

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