You had your baby, you got into the breastfeeding swing, you have the routine mastered (or almost!) and before you know it, it’s time to go back to work. If you decide to keep on breastfeeding (no judgement here, whatever you decide is great), there are quite a few things for you to consider and to discuss with your employer. Don’t forget that to make breastfeeding at work a success, there needs to be communication and commitment between your employer, your line manager, and yourself (if your baby cooperates it will be a big bonus!). Let’s explore actions that all three parties involved should consider taking.
The employer should:
- Create an environment that supports working parents. Send a clear message that senior leadership supports breast-feeding employees.
- Issue a written lactation policy.
- Offer a break allowance for mothers to express milk or feed their baby.
- Offer flexible working hours for breastfeeding mothers.
- Offer a warm, clean, and private room for expressing (not a toilet, please!) and a fridge (a separate one, if possible) to store the milk.
- Offer training to line managers so they know how to deal with this issue.
- Hire a lactation consultant to give extra support to employees, whenever feasible.
The line manager should:
- Have a conversation early on with the working parent so they know what to expect when she comes back and necessary arrangements can be made (e.g., flexible working, arranging breaks…). Do not assume that the employee will breastfeed (or not).
- Check-in every once in a while, to see how things are going.
- Be supportive and empathetic. Staff may feel self-conscious discussing this issue.
The working parent should:
- Think early about what they want to do regarding breastfeeding (or not) and discuss it with the line manager or HR.
- Ask colleagues who have been in the same situation for advice.
- Be gentle with yourself. Balancing work and breastfeeding can feel like a real struggle, don’t feel bad if things don’t go as planned, and remember that you are doing the best you can. Try to eat well and get some rest (easier said than done, we know) because working and breastfeeding can be really tiring, especially during the first weeks.
- Consider the logistics: Practice giving your baby expressed milk before you start working again so they get used to it, try to build an ‘expressed milk bank’, and decide how you will store and transport the milk safely.
- Ask for help when you need it, don’t struggle in silence!
Some employers must be thinking, why should I support breastfeeding mothers in my workforce? Why is it my concern?
Employers should support working breastfeeding mothers because:
- It is an excellent way of retaining and attracting talent. Remember that 1 in 4 working new mothers do not return to work. According to The Telegraph losing staff costs British business approximately £4 billion each year.
- Being family friendly also extends to your customers. 83% of millennials only want to deal with companies that share their values.
- It reduces absenteeism. Breastfeeding has positive health effects (e.g., lower chances of developing some types of cancer) and for babies (e.g., protects them against infections).
- It improves your employees’ work-life balance. Make their life easier!
To support mums who are considering breastfeeding or who are currently breastfeeding, we have a new masterclass by Dee Bell RM, IBCLC, Specialist Tongue-tie Practitioner and founder of the Infant Feeding Academy. You can watch it here. It provides all the information needed about breastfeeding positions, foods to have or not to have, sore nipples, or expressing milk manually.
If you are an employer who would like to improve the support you offer to your working parents or an employee who would like their employer to get better at it, email me to have a chat! As always, we are here to support you, whatever the issues are.
Ana and the REC Parenting Team