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Encouraging Breastfeeding at Work – some thoughts for employers

To celebrate this year’s World Breast Feeding Week, let’s reflect on what employers can do to better support new mothers in their workplace.

As the pandemic’s restrictions slowly subside, there are growing tensions at organisations where employees who have been working from home are now expected to come back to fully reopened offices. That is particularly true when it comes to working mothers who, since the start of covid-19, are, according to a McKinsey report, 1.5 times more likely than men to think about downshifting their careers, asking to work flexibly or leaving the workforce altogether. The amount of women asking for a change, or – even worse – simply resigning, is unequivocal: the status quo is inadequate.

What issues are working mothers facing? Well, it goes without saying that there are numerous and that we won’t be able to go into all of them in this article. However, as you might have guessed from the title of this article, one of these issues is many new mothers’ inability to breastfeed (breastfeeding covers both feeding the baby directly and expressing milk) in the office. The NHS and the World Health Organisation recommends to the vast majority of new mothers to breastfeed for the first 12 months of their baby’s lives. In a society where the pressure of perfection is overwhelming and where women must be not only perfect wives but also perfect mothers and employees, for many – or at least for those that want to/can – not being able to breastfeed makes their return to the office less than agreeable.

Whilst there is yet to be a statutory right to breastfeed at work in the UK there is significant guidance intended to support and encourage employers to positively support breastfeeding such as The Equality & Human Rights Commission Code and the Health and Safety Executive Guidance. They point out that allowing women to express milk in the workplace can be a very straightforward affair. Indeed it mostly consists of providing them with a private and clean environment (such as a small meeting room with a lock for a few hours a day), in addition to giving them access to a secure and clean fridge for storing purposes.

Making sure that new mothers have the opportunity to come back to the workplace is in itself a priority, but there are also many commercial benefits in making sure to support and retain women. As we know, in any industry, it makes little sense to draw from a smaller source of potentially suitable candidates. Not to mention that a diverse workforces generally achieve higher levels of performance in many of the most common metrics used to measure commercial success.

In the past year and a half, businesses have demonstrated more flexibility and bravery than ever before. Overnight, many have managed to revolutionise their processes and the way they trade. Whilst organisations have momentum, why not also take this opportunity to determine what new mothers’ concerns are in order to make the necessary adjustments? As the battle for talent currently rages on, now is the time to put in place policies to attract and retain staff. As detailed above, not much goes into creating adequate lactation facilities and a supportive breastfeeding environment in the workplace, so why not take the plunge?

If not in place already, there is little doubt that your organisation would benefit from having breastfeeding policies.  To do more to support your breastfeeding employees take a look at the ACAS guidance on breastfeeding and if a free consultation with one of our expert employment lawyers around how your business could do more to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace is of interest, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at legal@lexleyton.co.uk  

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