Earlier this year I started out on my campaign to help breastfeeding mothers upon returning to work. As a first-time mum who was about to return to work whilst still breastfeeding, I felt nervous and apprehensive.
Fortunately my return to work as a teacher was well supported and I have been able to continue to breastfeed my son. However, I am well aware other people do have such a positive experience. In fact, many people receive little to no support upong returning to work as a breastfeeding mother – and often end up cutting their breastfeeding journey short.
UK employees have no legal rights to breastfeeding or pumping breaks
After looking into the situation more I soon realised that UK employees have no legal rights to breastfeeding or pumping breaks. In many other European countries, breastfeeding mothers have a statutory right to paid breastfeeding breaks or a shorter working day if they have a baby under 12 months.
Norway, France, Portugal, Italy and Germany are just a few examples of countries that allow paid breastfeeding breaks up to 1 hour per day until their baby is 12 months old. Sweden offers this until the baby is 18 months old. Women in the UK are ‘more entitled to frequent breaks’ when returning to work (hse.gov.uk). However, ‘the law does not currently allow a simple straight forward right to breastfeeding breaks’ (maternityaction.org.uk).
The UK is one of the few places around the world where breastfeeding breaks at work are not guaranteed regardless of how old the baby is. And there is no law in place to protect mothers from loosing pay if they were able to do so. Currently mothers have some legal protection under the heath and safety and sex discrimination laws. However, the law does not allow for a straightforward right to have the breaks. Employers are only ‘encouraged’ to give them.
The UK is one of the few places around the world where breastfeeding breaks at work are not guaranteed regardless of how old the baby is
We need 10,000 signatures for the petition
I was appalled at this lack of support for breastfeeding mothers in the UK and it spurred me on to set up a petition to create new rights to paid breastfeeding breaks for mothers.
We need 10,000 signatures in order for the government to respond to the petition. I am hoping that we will reach this milestone during World Breastfeeding Week 2023.
Let’s make a difference this World Breastfeeding Week
To bring more awareness to my campaign during World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August) I have teamed up with Nuby UK to get as many signatures as possible. When I heard that the theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week is all about ‘Enabling breastfeeding: making a difference for working parents’ I knew I had to give my campaign one final push.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme is important because:
- Workplace challenges remain the most common reason for some to never breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding earlier than recommended,
- A workplace needs adequate breastfeeding facilities. Only 42 countries mandate workplace breastfeeding facilities.
- Breastfeeding provides vital health and nutritional benefits for children with positive lifelong impacts, building healthier populations – and work forces – for the future.
We shouldn’t have to choose between breastfeeding our children and returning to work
Women should not have to choose between breastfeeding their children and returning to work. More than half a billion working women are not given basic maternity provisions and many more find themselves unsupported when they go back to work. Breastfeeding support is possible regardless of workplace, sector, or contract type.
Mums should be able to make a choice about their body and their baby without worrying about whether their work will allow breaks or if they will lose pay because of it. If women can’t express or feed regularly it can be very uncomfortable and painful. Their breasts will become engorged, and this can lead to clogged ducts, mastitis and even abscesses, sometimes requiring hospitalization and antibiotics.
Mothers need to to keep up their milk supply to feed their baby. Having the legal right to a straightforward breastfeeding or pumping break may encourage breastfeeding mums to go back to work, making it easier for them to succeed in their careers. It sends a message that they are valued by their employers and care about their well-being.
Official guidelines for breastfeeding hold no weight if the right support is not in place
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for ‘up to 2 years’. This is also advised by the NHS, but it doesn’t hold any weight unless it has some statutory backing when mums return to work. The Department of Heath recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for six months and then breastfed in conjunction with solid food.
In the map below you can clearly see how far behind the UK is in terms of workplace support for breastfeeding. Our petition is hoping to change all that and to put in place a legal right for paid breastfeeding breaks for working mothers in the UK.
Map source: worldpolicycenter.org