Today’s blog article has kindly been provided by Lucie Jones, an executive paralegal at EIP. EIP is one of our Charter signatories.
Lucie writes: I remember watching a video on social media: “If men breastfed”. This advert for a breast pump company depicts what the workplace would be like if breastfeeding was the realm of men. I giggled seeing male stereotypes associated with expressing breast milk: men gathering in a lactation lounge that looks like a pub/casino, competing to express the most breastmilk, the gadget geeks boasting their high tech breast pumps, the fitness freak using the expressing time for a work out. I became seriously envious when I saw the breast shields being cleaned by the barman and lactation cookies and lactation steaks being on offer… and beer! And here I was, alone in my small meeting room, with my low tech pump, trying to express enough for my son’s next day feeds.. and not having had a drop of alcohol for months! How I wished I could be drinking a (virgin) mojito while my breast pump massages my neck and shoulders at the same time as expressing my milk… Still I was incredibly grateful to have this private space accommodated for me and for being allowed the time to express for as long as I wanted without any questions asked.
The majority of women decide to stop breastfeeding before they go back to work. After all in the UK we are granted a one year maternity leave and if one third of the mothers are still breastfeeding at 6 months, only 0.5% do so at 12 months. However some women decide to keep breastfeeding for all sorts of reasons. In my case, my son had been born extremely premature and even though he was almost one year old when I went back to work, he would have been only 8 months old had he been born full term. He had chronic lung disease that made him more susceptible to chest infections and as we were in the middle of winter I wanted him to have the immunity my breastmilk could give him. It would have been very difficult for me to go back to work hadn’t I been given the possibility to express in the office. At first it was to make sure he had enough breastmilk for his feeds while I was at work and for this I was pumping three times a day. Then, as he got stronger and healthier, it was for my body to adjust to not breastfeeding/expressing for a long period of time and I could reduce the expressing sessions progressively.
There are less dramatic reasons to want to keep breastfeeding a child. Many mothers have to, or choose to, shorten their maternity leave and go back to work when their baby is still heavily reliant on breastmilk, or their infant is allergic to formula/cow’s milk, or some just want to follow the World Health Organisation recommendation to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond… Whatever their reason is, it is important that they are given the possibility to do so.
There are lots of benefits for the employer to accommodate a breastfeeding woman: aside from the obvious increasing of staff morale and loyalty, it reduces absence due to child sickness as breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of infections and diseases. It also avoids the risk of their employee being off sick after developing mastitis, a painful inflammation of the mammary gland that is often caused by a build-up of milk within the breast.
A refusal to allow a breastfeeding employee to express milk or to adjust her working conditions to enable her to continue to breastfeed may amount to unlawful sex discrimination. Employers are required by law to provide somewhere for a breastfeeding employee to rest. Toilets are not acceptable as there may be a hygiene risk. I was using a meeting room with a screen for privacy and that was working well.
Of course we are still a far cry from my dream of a breast pump with neck massaging function and mocktail open bar but it is a good start.
It leaves me wondering though. If men were the ones breastfeeding, would expressing at work be more common?
Thank you Lucie for writing this article. We would be interested to hear from employees and employers alike on how their workplaces accommodate staff who are breastfeeding.
If you would like to write a blog article for IP Inclusive, on anything diversity related, please email Emily Teesdale of Abel & Imray. Guest bloggers are always very welcome.