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Breastfeeding still taboo in the workplace

Less than half (43%) of UK employers are comfortable with breastfeeding at work, according to new research by HR consultancy Peninsula.

Nearly all (95%) UK bosses said they run an inclusive workplace, but only 22% offer a designated area for employees to breastfeed.

The research found attitudes towards breastfeeding in the workplace could make nursing employees feel isolated and unwelcome.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, said within the remits of the legal protection, it is good practice to provide breastfeeding employees with suitable support.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Returning mothers should not be introduced back into the workplace without an initial discussion regarding their return, in a similar fashion to any employee who has been on long-term sickness absence, to understand their needs, concerns and answer any questions they have.

“Raising the topic of breastfeeding or expressing milk can be uncomfortable, however line managers can undertake training in how to carry out sensitive conversations such as this.”

Alternatively, Palmer said employers can ask the employee whether they would feel more comfortable discussing the matter with a female member of management or HR.

“Speaking to the employee about whether they have breastfeeding or expressing plans will ensure the manager is aware that this is taking place, and, at this stage, the provisions or facilities provided by the employer can also be confirmed,” she said.

Just 20% of UK employers said they have plans to introduce further measures, such as designated breastfeeding rooms, to support employees who are breastfeeding. 

When asked why they do not already have designated breastfeeding rooms, one employer said they did not have the extra office space to do so.

They said: "As yet we do not have a space free that could be designated for breastfeeding but, should someone require complete privacy, they would be more than welcome to make use of one of our offices.

 “We asked landlord to provide workplace facilities, but they refused."

Breastfeeding employees said they would like their employer to provide resting facilities that allow them to lie down, as desk spaces or cars are inadequate and inappropriate places to express milk.

Palmer added: “It will often be the case that employers will not have a clear designated space available for breastfeeding employees but areas such as a lockable office that can be made private through covering windows or doors may be suitable for this purpose.

“Again, talking through the available spaces with the employee will help show that you are taking all available steps to support  them at work.

HR could provide separate storage for expressed milk given some employees may not feel comfortable storing it openly. 

Palmer added: “Although legal obligations are scarce for an employer who employs a breastfeeding woman, there are other things that can provide a comfortable and welcoming environment for such employees.

“For example, providing a private space for the employee to express milk and suitable storage facilities and allowing extra paid breaks to use those facilities and adjusting performance targets accordingly.”


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