Breastfeeding and Returning to Work
When maternity leave draws to an end breastfeeding moms are facing several quite difficult questions. Some choose to wean their babies before returning to work, others are committed to continuing to breastfeed even after maternity leave is over and some choose a road somewhere in the middle. Regardless of a mom’s ultimate choice, it is of vital importance to weigh up the various options and discuss your possible choices with your family and with your employer well in advance of your re-entry into the workplace.
- Taking Unpaid Leave: Some women are not ready to return to work after statutory maternity leave and choose to take unpaid leave to extend their time at home with baby. If you cannot face returning to work, discuss it with your family and employer.
- Have Someone Bring Your Baby to Work for Feeds: Some women manage to organize for a caregiver to bring their babies to their place of work and continue breastfeeding as before. If feasible this is a great option as it will guarantee your continued milk supply and not disrupt your breastfeeding patterns. You may feed your baby during your coffee break or at lunch time.
- Return Home During Breaks to Breastfeed: If you are lucky enough to live in close proximity to your workplace and are unlikely to get stuck in traffic, returning home for feeds is a great idea. You need to inform your employer, however, to ensure she/he knows what is going on.
- Pump at Work: A lot of women return to work and continue breastfeeding by using a breast pump during breaks at work (I highly recommend the Medela pump). The pumped milk is then given to the caregiver who can give it to the baby the following day. It is recommended that mothers express in the same frequencies as they would normally feed. Rather than just sneaking out and pumping it is best to inform your employer who is obliged to facilitate you a private room where you can pump - and this isn't allowed to be the toilet!!
- Only Feed in the Morning, Evening and at Night: Some women prefer allowing caregivers to feed their babies with formula. The mother’s body can adjust quite well and after an initial adjustment period will only produce milk for morning, evening and night feeds. This process can initially be difficult, but works well for some women. One drawback may be more frequent night feeds as baby tries to compensate for your absence (often called reverse cycling).
- Weaning: In the UK, women can be on maternity leave for up to 12 months (and longer if you choose to tag on annual leave to the end of maternity leave) and choose to wean their babies before returning to work. Other women may choose to do so even after 3 months. When and how soon a woman weans her baby is a personal choice, even though the WHO and UNICEF recommend a minimum of 6 months.
Stand Up for Your Rights!
Communication with your employer is key and it is important to find out what your rights in relation to breastfeeding are. In the UK, employers are obliged to facilitate breastfeeding women, however, many women are often unaware of their rights and employers sometimes choose to ignore obligations.
Commonly, employers are obliged to provide the following:
- Paid Breaks for Feeding or Pumping: Employers are legally obliged to allow a woman to either have a caregiver bring her baby to a private place at work for feeds or allow her to take breaks for expressing.
- Providing a Comfortable Space: In most countries, employers are obliged by law to provide a private room for nursing mothers. These rooms are to have a power point for the use of pumps, comfortable chairs, a table, a refrigerator for the storing of breast milk, a sink for washing and a changing table and mat for moms who breastfeed their babies at work.
Unfortunately, it seems that many employers are either not aware of such obligations or choose to ignore them. In a recent landmark case, two women won their action against the airline EasyJet.
The EasyJet Landmark Case
In September 2016, two cabin crew members won the action they took against their employer EasyJet at a court. The court found that EasyJet’s failure to facilitate the women’s continued breastfeeding amounted to indirect sex discrimination and was in breach of the Employment Rights Act.
On the advice of their GP, the women had gone to EasyJet management and asked to have their shifts remain below 8 hours so that they could express at the beginning and end of their shift. EasyJet in essence fobbed them off, but the women took their employers to court and won.
The court held that the airline had to reduce the breastfeeding women's work hours, suspend them on full pay or find alternative duties for them so as to enable them to carry on breastfeeding should they wish.
Thanks to this ruling, women will now find it much easier to insist on having their rights upheld and employers will have to recognize and respect the rights of breastfeeding women.
Thought, Discussion and Planning
Before returning to work, breastfeeding moms must weigh up their options, determine what will work best for them and make sure have an adequate support network in place that allows them to continue breastfeeding if they wish to do so. The support of the family, caregiver and employer are a prerequisite that a woman should be in a position to expect.
Are you planning on going back to work? If so, when?
Please share your thoughts, concerns and advice about breastfeeding and going back to work. We would love to hear from you all!
Until next time