With World Breastfeeding Week coming to a close and National Breastfeeding Awareness Month continuing throughout August in the US, organizations should be ensuring they can provide a positive workplace environment for those nursing that will benefit them all year round.
People that are still breastfeeding when returning to work will need to express breast milk between 8-10 times over a 24-hour period. In the US, it is a legal requirement for employers to provide a private space to express, as well as allowing their breastfeeding employees to take breaks as frequently as necessary. These facilities must be available for at least a year, and this set of policies are known as the federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law. However, there can be regional differences to these laws; for example, in the state of Colorado there is no set amount of time a company must cater for the needs of those breastfeeding.
New Zealand and parts of Canada follow a very similar approach, with employers required to provide the appropriate facilities for anyone breastfeeding.
In the UK, however, there is currently no legal requirement for a workplace to provide such facilities. As a result, it was reported last year that a Member of Parliament, Stella Creasy, had been criticized for bringing her baby son to her workplace – the Houses of Parliament in London – while she was still breastfeeding him. Shortly after, Ms Creasy received an official notice stating that she should not take her seat in the debating chamber with a child – a notice she subsequently published on Twitter to highlight the issue surrounding the lack of support for women in this same position at work.
While there is guidance from the Health and Safety Executive which recommends that a clean environment (that is not a bathroom) be supplied, there is an opportunity for employers in the UK to take responsibility for supporting the needs of their nursing employees.
The importance of women having a space to breastfeed at work is vital for their health and safety. There is a risk of swelling and soreness if a woman doesn’t express when needed, and in extreme cases this can lead to a bacterial infection called mastitis.
The embedding of inclusion policies for breastfeeding can help remove the pervading stigma that is clearly still attached to those nursing in some workplaces and, in turn, help create an even safer and more inclusive workplace culture overall.
With the US, Canada, and New Zealand leading the way in accommodating the needs of breastfeeding workers, executives around the world should seize the opportunity to show leadership in their countries.