In the UK , it’s down to pure luck whether a woman’s employer will be supportive of her aim to express milk at work and retain her milk supply and breastfeeding relationship. There are employers finding little offices, sourcing mini-fridges, letting teachers off doing playground duty – quietly and without fanfare. And there are employers who don’t understand the point, can’t envisage how facilitating a mother to pump milk might work and see no need to bother. Women are feeling vulnerable and unable to fight fights they don’t feel entitled to fight. A woman could try and make her case citing health and safety legislation and by mentioning the equality act but her employer can politely ignore her. As ACAS says in its document ‘accommodating breastfeeding in the workplace’, “The law doesn’t require an employer to grant paid breaks from a job in order to breastfeed or to express milk for storage and later use. Neither does it require an employer to provide facilities to breastfeed or express milk.” This toothless document then goes on to explain what nice employers might choose to do. This isn’t helping the women phoning the national breastfeeding helplines in tears and in pain at their desks. It was produced at the request of the government when charities like Maternity Action and the breastfeeding groups pressured government into acknowledging that breastfeeding protection was missing in this legislation. It doesn't help. National laws provide for breastfeeding breaks in more than 90 countries worldwide. We are not one of them.
In the UK, a breastfeeding mother has the legal right to ‘rest’ but not to express and store her milk. Health and safety guidance might suggest that an employer could provide a room and a time for a mother to pump but they are only required to allow her to rest. We don’t want to rest. Give us ten minutes to use our double electric breast pump perhaps three times in a working day and most of us will be able to continue to give our baby’s breastmilk for as long as we want to.
The USA, the land of the free and the spectacularly rubbish maternity leave has 16% of babies exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months (Source: CDC Breastfeeding Report Card 2012). Terrible. Awful. Embarrassing.
The UK manages 1%.
The USA has 47% of babies getting any breastmilk at 6 months. We have 34%.
America has women regularly returning to work at 6 weeks. Yet they return to a workplace where their president has a declared them to have the legal right to ‘reasonable break time’ for expression up to 1 year after birth.
Allowing a ‘reasonable break’ means both mothers and employers are encouraged to have a sensible and fair dialogue. It’s a good place to start. In a letter on this subject, minister Jo Swinson claimed legislation was not possible as expression was so individual (yet for some reason the right to ‘rest’ is not?!). The law doesn’t need to be prescriptive. It just needs to empower women to start conversations. It will make continuing to breastfeed while working normal and manageable. Remember this isn’t just about the rights of mums and dads, this is about the rights of babies. We need never assume that a woman returning early to work would OF COURSE be ending breastfeeding.