A Newspoll survey done by the Australian Lactation Consultants Association discovered that more than one in four Australians viewed breastfeeding in public as unacceptable making it harder for breastfeeding mothers to return to the workforce.
The research also found adults aged 18 to 24 were least supportive, with up to 36 per cent considering breastfeeding in public such as in a cafe or at work as unacceptable.
Just 29 per cent of the 1,000 males and females surveyed strongly agreed that women should be encouraged to breastfeed publicly, yet 65 per cent of people believed breastfed babies had a better chance of surviving their first 12 months, RMIT University Lecturer in Midwifery and Breastfeeding and Human Lactation and Vice-President of the Australian Lactation Consultants Association, Dr James said.
“It’s unacceptable to expect that women should be locked inside their houses to breastfeed.
“Part of the reason why young mothers wean their babies too early is societal pressure and isolation from other mothers experiencing the same difficulties,” she said.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 118,000 Australian new mothers with breastfeeding babies return to paid work when their child is aged 6 months or younger. Therefore, workplace support is crucial if we are to follow the recommendations of The World Health Organisation which strongly recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and ongoing breastfeeding for two years or more.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association says providing a family-friendly workplace for new mothers helps with retention rates and demonstrates a commitment to equal employment opportunity, workplace diversity and corporate social responsibility.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association offers a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Accreditation (BFWA) for companies to show their commitment to providing a supportive workplace for women who are breastfeeding. This doesn’t only address having appropriate facilities in the workplace to assist breastfeeding mothers but also changing the mentality of management and staff members who work at the company.
Australian companies which have BFWA accreditation include Australian Parliament House incorporating Department of the Senate, Department of the House of Representatives & Department of Parliamentary Services (DPA), Westpac Banking Corporation, National Gallery of Australia, ANZ Bank, the Australian Zoo and various government and regulatory bodies.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association offers some key tips in which employees can address their manager about breastfeeding at work and promoting a family-friendly workplace:
• Discuss your intention to continue breastfeeding with your employer well in advance of your return, ideally before you go on maternity leave.
• If your employer has not stayed in touch with you whilst on maternity leave, you may need to raise your request again about 2 months before you return. The frequency of lactation breaks at work will depend on the age of your baby and your hours of work. You will have a better idea of your requirements just prior to going back to work.
• If you have an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer, Human Resources Group or Personnel Group, or are a member of a union, check their attitudes and knowledge of breastfeeding policies.
• You will require a private room (not the toilet area) with a comfortable chair, a refrigerator where you can store expressed breast milk, somewhere you can store an electric breast pump or manual breast pump, and time to express milk during lunch break and other breaks if necessary.
• The International Labour Organisation recommends one or more daily breaks or a daily reduction of hours of work, counted as working time and remunerated accordingly.
• Discuss also the possibility of breastfeeding during breaks and lunchtime, and flexible work hours and breaks.
• You may be able to have your baby brought to you at work. Or if your baby is in child care nearby, you may be able to go and breastfeed the baby there. Talk about this with your employer.
• Consider the purchase of an electric breast pump to make expressing sessions at work quicker.
• Contact a trained Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor for support and advice.
• If your workplace continues to be unsupportive, or if you think you have been discriminated against please contact the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in your state for advice and to lodge a complaint.
New mothers with breastfeeding babies returning to work can experience high levels of anxiety, choose to delay their return to work, reduce their work hours or leave their jobs altogether.
Promoting a family-friendly workplace for new mothers and encouraging a life-work balance can have a positive effect on all employees and make them happier and more motivated. This in turn increases productivity, decreases absenteeism and disruption to work and improves the bottom line of a company.
You may want to read our article on Preparing for Pregnancy.