What Can Employers To Do Support Pumping Mothers In The Workplace?

d&i strategies managing working parents motherhood return to work Jan 31, 2020

The transition back to work after maternity leave for a new mother brings many challenges, one of which is being able to breastfeed. Too many mothers still feel they must make a choice between breastfeeding and keeping their job, and it is our role as employers to change that. 

The most important thing to emphasize here is the importance of a mother’s CHOICE. Whether her baby is breastfed, formula fed, or combination fed, it should be exclusively her decision that is not affected by her return to the workplace. 

Breastfeeding continuation can be significantly challenged by a change in routine such as returning to work. Moreover, pumping breast milk to store safely in sterilised bottles requires specific conditions and resources. It’s important for employers to support this transition and ensure that mothers have everything they need to make their feeding choices work. 

It’s also important to note that EU law forbids discrimination against breastfeeding mothers, especially in the workplace. In Switzerland, legislation has been in force since 2014 that says women have the right to breastfeed during working hours until the child is one year old. 

Mothers can pump milk or breast-feed babies inside or outside the workplace, at home or at nursery. Paid breastfeeding breaks are limited according to the length of the working day – paid breaks of between 30 and 90 minutes are allowed depending on the number of hours worked in the day.

The health and safety of breastfeeding mothers is a high priority and EU countries must comply with minimum standards. If working conditions could harm the breastfeeding mother, the employer must adjust them to ensure her well-being. If that is not possible, she must be given leave. All the while, the mother’s employment rights must be upheld.

How To Provide Support

#1 Provide breaks for pumping

Regular breaks are important for the health of a breastfeeding mother - extended periods between feeding or pumping can make her ill

#2 Provide a dedicated room

The Health and Safety Executive and guidance from the European Commission recommend that employers should provide access to a private room where women can breastfeed or express breast milk; use of secure, clean refrigerators for storing expressed breast milk while at work, and facilities for washing, sterilising and storing receptacles.

Mothers also need to feel relaxed without worrying about being disturbed. When a baby is present at the breast, the hormone oxytocin is more easily released to encourage milk flow. When a baby is absent, it can be more difficult. Some mothers find looking at photos of their baby stimulates milk flow. Therefore their pumping space needs to be truly private and peaceful, warm, and comfortable, so they can relax to focus on the task at hand. 

#3 Provide emotional support

One of the most important ways to provide support is emotionally. Help her to feel safe to ask for what she needs without fearing a negative attitude from you as her manager or her co-workers. Better still, offer it first. Don’t let it be a taboo subject. 

It’s normal for pumping mothers to worry about how co-workers and managers will react to their need for pumping space and time. In some company cultures, there is still an expectation for mothers to return to work and pick up where they left off and act like they are not parents. Mothers are protected against sexual harassment which could include detrimental treatment or offensive teasing on the grounds of breastfeeding. 

A new survey from Aeroflow Healthcare found that 49% of expectant mothers worried their desire to breastfeed would negatively affect their job opportunities. Pumping mothers need to understand and be assured that as her employer, you respect and support her choices and that they will not affect her position or prospects.

The Mother’s Perspective

The return to work is likely to be the first time a new mother is separated from her baby for extended periods of time. It’s a difficult and emotional time for her and also for her baby. Continuing to breastfeed helps with this transition by providing extra comfort and security for both mother and baby, helping them to cope better with the change. 

Breast milk also helps to protect babies against infections, which will be on a mother’s mind if her baby is spending more time with other children in childcare when she returns to work. Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from conditions such as gastro-enteritis, respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and ear infections. Breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of later childhood diseases such as eczema, asthma, wheezing and diabetes. 

Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop breast cancer, some forms of ovarian cancer, and hip fractures as a result of osteoporosis in old age too.

Help Mothers Prepare

Before they return to work, pumping mothers should be fully aware of what resources they will have available to them and understand how it will work. They should also have the opportunity to discuss their needs and share their concerns. This should be part of the formal discussions before they go on maternity leave, and it should be covered during their ‘keeping in touch’ days too.

Whether it is the manager, supervisor, or HR representative, someone should be appointed to bridge the gap between company policy and personal experience, making sure that the practical applications of the policy are considered in relation to the individual and her role within the company. 

It is a challenging transition for a mother to return to work after having a baby, and there is a lot for her to manage aside from breastfeeding continuation. Don’t let it be an afterthought or an awkward ‘extra’ discussion - talk about it early, ask what she needs, and make sure everything is in place for her before she returns. 

During our Caring & Career workshops with mums-to-be and separately with people managers Managers we take the time to raise these sensitive points and to make everyone aware of the facts, resources and support available.

Do Your Research

Especially if you have never breastfed or pumped before, it is worth doing your research to understand what’s involved so that you can better support mothers returning to work. 

Breastfeeding is a skill that has to be learnt, and pumping requires practice too. Most mothers will have been practicing before they start work, but that doesn’t mean they are finding it easy. 

How often mothers express milk and for how long can vary significantly between individuals and even between pumping sessions for the same person. Babies rarely breastfeed to an exact schedule, and pumping doesn’t work that way either. 

Ideally a mother should be able to take pumping breaks as and when she needs them, but when this is not possible it’s important to consider the individual and work with her on a solution that best meets her needs. 

If you want to go above and beyond to ensure you are providing enough support for pumping mothers, hire a lactation consultant. He or she will be able to consider your specific work environment and help you work with the resources you have to provide the best support possible. 

At Thriving Talent and Thriving Parents, we have a goal to empower 1 million parents by the end of 2020. If you would like to explore how you can create a culture which enables “caring and career” in your organisation, using a successful, holistic approach, please email us at [email protected].

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