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Moving the dial on attitudes towards breastfeeding in the workplace

Kate Palmer - Peninsula UK

Did you know: 95% of UK bosses say they run an inclusive workplace, but only 22% offer a designated area for employees to breastfeed?

Ahead of World Breastfeeding Week 2021 (August 1-6), Peninsula conducted a global survey of 48,973 employers across 4 countries – Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the UK – to look at attitudes towards breastfeeding in the workplace and see how businesses were supporting their employees.

It is highly likely that, at some stage, managers will have an employee who is breastfeeding or expressing milk at work. This question has been in the news recently with several Olympic athletes complaining that they were having to choose between their sport and their child, until the International Olympic Committee revised their rules allowing babies to travel to Tokyo with their parents, if they were breastfeeding.

Within the remits of the legal protection, it is good practice to provide breastfeeding employees with suitable support. After all, the success of their return to the professional environment will often directly relate to how they are managed over the initial period.

Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula UK. She says:

“Returning mothers should not be introduced back into the workplace without an initial discussion regarding their return, in a similar fashion to any employee who has been on long-term sickness absence, in order to understand their needs, concerns and answer any questions they have.

“Raising the topic of breastfeeding or expressing milk can be uncomfortable, however line managers can undertake training in how to carry out sensitive conversations such as this. Alternatively, you may wish to ask whether the employee would feel more comfortable discussing the matter with a female member of management or HR.

“Speaking to the employee about whether they have breastfeeding or expressing plans will ensure the manager is aware that this is taking place, and, at this stage, the provisions or facilities provided by the employer can also be confirmed.

“The need to provide breastfeeding employees with resting facilities that allow them to lie down clearly shows that toilets, desk spaces or cars are inadequate and inappropriate places to provide. Instead, employees must, as far as possible, be provided with a private, secure and hygienic place where expressing milk can take place.

“It will often be the case that employers will not have a clear designated space available for breastfeeding employees but areas such as a lockable office that can be made private through covering windows or doors may be suitable for this purpose. Again, talking through the available spaces with the employee will help show that you are taking all available steps to support her at work.

“A further consideration will be the provision of storage facilities for expressed milk. Whilst most offices will have a communal fridge in a staff room, it may be the case that the employee does not feel comfortable using this so openly. Possible options include providing a separate fridge area or allocating a space within the communal fridge using a sealable container or cool box which maintains a hygienic storage space.”

Quotes from employers surveyed

Australia
“As a business owner I have personally breastfed my babies in the workplace and I have multiple staff also do the same. I also make a room available for religious prayer and accommodate for religious festivals.”

“Everyone has the right to a fair go so we can all evaluate potential and actual skills and value”

“We are a small team of 14 & currently have 3 new mums either returning to work or due to return to work soon. We are accommodating all requests for assistance when it comes to breastfeeding their bubs”

“Yes. I have no issue at all with staff either pumping milk for later or the child’s carer bringing the baby in for feeding. We’ve had only one staff member that this was needed for and she didn’t even feel the need to check with anyone if this would be OK. She just knew it would be.”

“I don’t hire women, and now I will never hire a man who has not already started his family. I cannot afford to pay people to not be here when they choose to create a new life. Their choice, not mine!”

Q4 – Are you looking to introduce further measures to support employees who are breastfeeding?

“It hadn’t crossed my mind, but now you have mentioned it I would be interested in knowing how we can”

“Nobody has a new baby here but if they did then yes, we would 100% accommodate”

“I’m happy for staff to breastfeed and we have had mothers who have pumped milk when at work. We have a couple of very comfortable staff areas & a staff lounge that they have used (we are 99% female staffed). My only concern is sometimes the times that the employee has to feed/pump are not good times for the business, and it causes disruption and disharmony within the team. It is not a 5 min break they are gone for 45mins-1hour and at a busy time of day it’s a nightmare. It did cause a lot of disruption to our small business!”

“This just opens the door for Sexual harassment claims. We are in Australia with good old Fair work being for the Employee. It is easy to mitigate the risk by not being in favour. We would need to have designated room, safety protocols in place for egress and a full safe work assessment.”

 

Canada
”I think it is important for women to return to work guilt free. They shouldn’t feel torn between a career and motherhood. Allowing them to comfortably breastfeed in the workplace will ease the stress of returning to work.”

“I myself went back to work when my babies were 12 weeks old and breastfed them until about 14 months each. I pumped during the day. Baby was at daycare.”

“To a point, I don’t think you can cover all aspects of being inclusive. Should something come to our attention that we are falling short on I like to believe we would do what we can to accommodate.”

“I personally have no issue. However, we are a restaurant business and when this happens, we have a lot of upset customers who will simply not come back.”

Q4 – Are you looking to introduce further measures to support employees who are breastfeeding?

“Currently we do not have an area for breastfeeding/pumping. As a mother myself, I had to use the bathroom to pump when my son was a newborn. Unfortunately, our facility is not very big and there is no private place to go other than the bathroom”.

“There is no need to have a breastfeeding place here, there are no women at that stage and we are not open to the public….also, if required, I would give up my office if someone was uncomfortable with the common areas.”

“No as I have no staff requiring these measures, but if I did, we would absolutely implement whatever measures necessary to make our staff feel comfortable”

“If/When required, we would gladly introduce further measures.”

Ireland
“We already employ breastfeeding mothers and encourage them to continue until they feel they want to wean. We also try to accommodate breastfeeding during the working day where possible and practical.”

“We are an inclusive workplace and a designated place to breastfeed would be set up if the need for it arises. To date, it has not been the case.”

“We cannot accommodate an employee while they are with clients as it wouldn’t work. We do not have a creche facility but have in the past had employees express breast milk and on one occasion bring a baby to work.”

“Construction so mainly male workers but would be open to it, fully understand the benefits and importance of being an inclusive employer”

Q4 – Are you looking to introduce further measures to support employees who are breastfeeding?

“We would if the government introduced legislation. We have not experienced employees returning to work and wanting to breastfeed yet, but we would be responsive if that happened.”

“When designing our new office, we discussed with one of our breastfeeding employees what she needed. We checked several rooms and decided together what suited best and what she needed in this room”

“We don’t feel the need to. We are quite happy to allow mothers to express milk at work but we do not encourage employees to bring their children to work”

“If they’re still breastfeeding then they should not be back to work. It’s their choice to breast feed or not”

UK
“Only two female employees but we are accommodating breastfeeding as best we can. No employees currently breastfeeding but they know we will accommodate them if needed.”

“We are an open and friendly company that feels that allowing staff the space or time (within reason) to follow their cultural/moral/religious/maternal requirements for a pre agreed part of their working day makes for a happier, stronger and more productive team”

“We recently had a mum return to work who needed to breastfeed twice a day. We ensured we had a room for her and provided her with a fridge to keep her milk safe for her baby”

“We wouldn’t allow women to sit in the office uncovered so why is it ok when there is a baby? Go to the ladies and feed in peace and don’t make the rest of us uncomfortable”

Q4 – Are you looking to introduce further measures to support employees who are breastfeeding?

“A designated area and fridge for this purpose are already in place”

“We have tried to be as inclusive as possible for a team member who is returning from maternity leave who would like the option to breastfeed at work. We are a small office so don’t have a dedicated place but discussed options with her and she is welcome to use any of the meeting rooms for this purpose if she would like privacy. She actually preferred to sit in the communal dining areas so she could speak with other people, which is fine too.”

“As yet we do not have a space free that could be designated for breastfeeding but, should someone require complete privacy, they would be more than welcome to make use of one of our offices.”

“We asked landlord to provide workplace facilities, but they refused.”

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