Supporting breastfeeding mothers: minor policy change – major impact

Isn’t this just a small detail which doesn’t apply to many employees?  Does it actually matter?

Absolutely it matters!  Considering continuing with breastfeeding when returning to work is a subject which crops up frequently in our parental-transition coaching.  One of the biggest barriers to women making plans to continue to breastfeed is the difficult conversation with a manager or HR about what facilities are available to support them.  The thought of this conversation alone is enough to put most people off asking, so it’s crucial to ensure these guidelines are readily available on the intranet/maternity policy for individuals to read through themselves.

Sarah Flynn, a new coach on our team, has also trained as a post-natal facilitator and breastfeeding buddy, and agrees on the importance of proactive support:

‘It’s hugely important for organisations to support breastfeeding – employees shouldn’t feel they have to hide the fact they’re parents.  Returners from leave need to feel confident in who they are as parents as well as professionals.  The more organisations can do to remove any of the many obstacles a returning parent face, the more engaged they will be.’

As well as supporting the personal needs of parents, there are also business benefits.  A US study of multiple companies with lactation support programs found an average retention rate of 94%.

The law requires an employer to provide somewhere for a breastfeeding employee to rest and this includes being able to lie down – does your office have this facility?  Currently, the law doesn’t require employers to give time off for breastfeeding, but you do have provide the appropriate facilities for expressing.

Very simply; a clean, private, lockable room, with a fridge to store milk and a comfortable chair or bed is required – and just as importantly, this information needs to be easy to find on parental policy documents/webpages.

In total, 34% of babies in the UK are breastfed for six months – the figure for Norway is 71%. Neena Modi, RCPCH president, talks about breastfeeding in general in the UK:

‘Local support is patchy, advice is not always consistent and often overly dogmatic, support in the workplace not always conducive to continued breastfeeding and perhaps most worryingly breastfeeding in public is still often stigmatised.’

For a PDF guide for employers supporting breastfeeding at work, see the ACAS guidelines here:

http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4703

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