Abreast of the times: Breastfeeding and work

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Times, they are a-changing. Now with full-time, career minded women in the workplace, the pressures of breastfeeding have become complicated. For the near 120,000 women returning from maternity each year, many won’t be returning to a ‘breastfeeding friendly’ environment, meaning bub misses out on the best nutrition available to them for the first six months. So let’s talk about the kind of barriers women face and what we can do about them.

The stats

Ever wondered what other Mums are doing? Here are the Aussie breastfeeding statistics, so you know roughly where the norm is sitting.

Over 90% of Australian women initiate breastfeeding after childbirth.

56% continue breastfeeding until their child reaches 6 months of age.

30% are still breastfeeding 12 months after childbirth.

Although, 30% of women who are still breastfeeding until six months will mix it up a bit and use other sources of infant food.

Lunch on the go

Studies actually suggest that work isn’t the reason women stop breastfeeding, but working mothers are definitely less likely to continue. Not surprising, as women really do face so many challenges and workplace pressures of feeding while working.

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Women working casual hours or who are self-employed hold the highest breastfeeding rates. However, for bubs in childcare, the rates drop, showing there may not be opportunities for women who must place their kiddies in care.

Why the ‘why’ is so important

Breast milk is absolutely the best source of nutrition for newborns. It’s got everything in one tidy package, so why not use it? For those who say, “Just use a substitute” – you can’t. Nothing even comes close.

The production of milk is stimulated by infant suckling, so basically ‘the boob knows’. The act of suckling actually helps release nifty hormones called prolactin and oxytocin from the pituitary gland. So if suckling is what stimulates the milk, then a whole work day away from baby will decrease the production of milk.

The law: You can’t fight city hall

The right to feed your child at work is internationally recognised by bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF). So they’ve got your back if you start to feel unfairly treated.

Under Australian laws, employers have to consider any requests from families for breastfeeding, so again, if you feel you cannot, then it’s time to make some calls. Start by talking to your boss and discussing your options. Unfortunately, while there aren’t actually laws enabling women to breastfeed, the introduction of a government-funded universal parenting leave benefit in Australia from 1 January 2011 is expected to increase women’s access to paid maternity leave.

Breastfeeding-friendly workplaces

This kind of workplace is one where women:

  • Have access to a suitable facility in which they can breastfeed their infant or express their breastmilk;
  • Are provided breaks from work in order to breastfeed or express milk; and
  • Can discuss their breastfeeding needs with their employer.

To find out more, the Australian Breastfeeding Association now manages an accreditation program for breastfeeding-friendly workplaces. The program offers consultancy services to assist employers in identifying barriers to breastfeeding in the workplace, and accreditation to those employers who successfully remove these barriers and create breastfeeding-friendly workplaces.

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In these environments, women should be able to breastfeed with assurance of such things as lactation breaks, proper facilities, maternity leave, support, zero harassment, arranging childcare close to work, a private room (but not a toilet!) and a variety of other measures.

This is because we now know that women who have access to this support are able to breastfeed for longer, and this develops a better work–life balance for employees. A happy worker is a happy boss, so it’s in an employer’s best interest.

Breastfeeding also improves child health. Mums will have to be away from the office less if a child is healthy, and there are studies to prove it. Plus, if a woman can keep her job, then workplaces can maintain optimum staff retention.

Express lane milk

If breastfeeding at work is just not an option, many women choose to express their milk and store it so that their babies can access it from a bottle. Women have to start expressing milk several weeks before going back to work – mostly for practice and to see how long it takes, because it can differ for each woman.

Who you gonna call? The ABA

Women who are planning to have a child or are currently breastfeeding may find support to combine work and breastfeeding from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

The ABA has recently launched a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Accreditation scheme, which may enable women to identify breastfeeding-friendly workplaces, or give employers greater incentive to make their workplace breastfeeding friendly.

Employees who are members of unions should also check to see what support their union provides.

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More information

 Breastfeeding and the workplace  For more information, see Breastfeeding and the Workplace.
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Date Created: November 30, 2011 Date Modified: December 22, 2013