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7 ways to help breastfeeding women at work

Making the workplace more family-friendly brings benefits not only to mother and child, but to society and to your business too. Helping mothers return to work after maternity leave enables you to keep your business running and expands choices for your working mothers.

While most countries make provisions for employers to provide space and paid breaks within the working day for breastfeeding, only 39 per cent of surveyed businesses offer any breastfeeding support. When they do, this usually comes in the form of breaks. 

Comprehensive programmes to support lactating mothers are generally absent, and there is a clear link between national or mandatory legislation on breastfeeding in the workplace and business action. However, there are clear benefits to both employer and employee in creating a more family-friendly workplace. These include saving money, retaining staff and improving the reputation of your company.

Let’s look at seven ways to make your workplace more family-friendly and inclusive and talk about why this will benefit both your business and your employees. The best way to support working parents during this period is to understand what they want and need through discussing this with them. 

Provide a place

It is not difficult or expensive to provide culturally appropriate lactation support to employees. At the minimum, you will need a private, clean, safe and secure place for women to breastfeed in the workplace. It does not require an office redesign and can be done at zero cost. Schedule regular appointments in an infrequently used room, with a seat and space to put the pumping equipment. Use partitions or temporary tents when no other options are available. Unsanitary toilets and bathrooms are unacceptable places for women to breastfeed or pump milk. Give your working mothers the clean space they need. And if they want to pump at their desk, allow them to do so.

Provide a clean, secure storage area

If women choose to pump, they need access to a clean and safe space to store breastmilk at work, before returning home. Either provide a dedicated fridge or a designated, clean space within the fridge for the sole use of lactating mothers and storage of their milk. Employees should consider using re-sealable containers to store the milk for hygiene purposes. Make sure there is access to running water so that mothers can wash their hands and clean the parts of the pump.

Provide paid breaks for lactating mothers to breastfeed or pump

During an eight-hour workday, nursing mothers generally need between two and three breaks—depending on the child’s feeding schedule—and these breaks should be remunerated whether the mother is working from home or in the workplace. Adequate paid breaks are understood to be determined by the breastfeeding parent and not the employer. Remember, the working mother needs to move to the designated pumping room or area. Make sure this time is taken into account in your workplace. Lunchtime is not breast milk pumping time and the two should not be confused. And don’t forget fathers who are feeding newborns, they need your support too with paid feeding breaks.

A respectful and supportive environment

Breast milk is vital for a baby’s healthy development and producing it can be painful, and sometimes it takes time. As a manager, it is vital that you create a respectful and supportive environment so that your working mothers feel comfortable whether they choose to breastfeed or not. Make sure that you approve leave when needed and take care of responsibilities to nurture a family-friendly workplace. Companies that make working mothers who breastfeed or pump feel supported and valued are more likely to retain staff and have a better reputation.  A happy parent is a happy and more productive worker.

Fight misinformation

There is currently no evidence to suggest that a woman with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection, who has recently given birth, needs to be separated from her infant. All mothers and infants, regardless of their COVID-19 status, need support to remain together to practice rooming-in, establish breastfeeding, and practice skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo mother care. There is no evidence that vaccinated mothers who breastfeed put their children at risk.

Don’t discriminate

A breastfeeding request should be treated like any other request to fit work around domestic life. Employees experience temporary changes in their work lives for a variety of reasons, and breastfeeding is no different. Discuss the subject with employees and work together to find solutions. Employers should safeguard breastfeeding workers against discrimination or inappropriate behaviour. Breastfeeding and pumping employees should not be made to feel uncomfortable or judged. Protect your workers against such attacks. Include discrimination against breastfeeding mothers in bullying and harassment training in your workplace and raise the issue during staff meetings. And don’t forget men who need to feed babies - they need breaks too. All workers should be treated with dignity and supported to deal with their changing life circumstances.

Share some solidarity with your lactating colleagues

Motherhood is the most natural thing in the world. Accommodate your lactating colleagues by showing them respect—for their family situation, bodily needs and privacy. Stand with your breastfeeding colleagues to fight for their right to breastfeed and pump milk safely and hygienically in a private manner in the workplace. Call out all inappropriate jokes or comments and help create a working environment where mothers do not feel judged.