Third of mums express milk in work toilet: Why is there still no support for breastfeeding mums in the workplace?

Why is there still such a lack of support for breastfeeding mums in the workplace? [Photo: Getty]
Why is there still such a lack of support for breastfeeding mums in the workplace? [Photo: Getty]

One in three breastfeeding mothers have been forced to use a toilet to express milk after they return to work, according to new research.

The survey also revealed that more than half of the mums polled said they have had to express milk in an unsuitable place, including the staffroom, their car or at their desk.

As a result, almost a third of the 2,000 mums polled said they had experienced problems while trying to express, including issues around supply, infections and anxiety.

The struggles resulted in almost a third (30%) of mothers being forced to stop expressing earlier than they would have liked, the study by law firm Slater and Gordon revealed.

One 36-year-old pharmaceutical worker, who asked to remain anonymous because she feared losing her job, detailed the lack of support many women face returning to work after having a baby.

She detailed her experiences, which included her employer not providing adequate facilities to express milk while she was at work.

“At head office there isn’t a specific room to use, so I have to try and find an empty office or conference room, which don’t have locks or any privacy. I’ve had to use the toilets on many occasions.

“Sometimes I’ve just gone back to the car park and expressed in my car. It’s not acceptable but I don’t really have a choice.”

The anonymous worker went on to say that there was also no storage facilities for her expressed milk, so it had to be thrown away sometimes, which she said was “heartbreaking”.

She also described a time when she had to attend a meeting and hadn’t had a chance to express beforehand, which meant she leaked all over her shirt

“I had to spend the rest of the meeting trying to cover the wet stains with my blazer,” she said.

“I didn’t feel I was able to leave and just sat there. It was so embarrassing.”

Breastfeeding mums are struggling to express at work [Photo: Getty]
Breastfeeding mums are struggling to express at work [Photo: Getty]

According to the NCT employers are legally required to provide a space for mums who are breastfeeding to lie down and rest if they need to.

But there is no legal right for employers to provide breastfeeding or expressing breaks at work.

However, they must meet their obligations to employees who breastfeed under health and safety law, flexible working law and discrimination law, which means your employer should make sure you don’t feel unfairly treated because you are breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, as the survey highlights, this obligation isn’t always being met with half of breastfeeding mothers claiming their bosses did not know what to do, had no facilities or felt embarrassed by the conversation.

Commenting on the findings one of the firm’s employment law specialists, Paula Chan, said: “This research is concerning – no mother should feel forced to express milk for her child in a toilet.

“People would be horrified at the thought of food being prepared in such unhygienic conditions so it’s unacceptable that we are in a situation where that is considered to be an option when preparing milk for a baby.”

Time for change?

It seems that there hasn’t been much movement on the support offered to breastfeeding mums in the workplace.

A parliamentary report back in 2015 proposed that mothers get paid breaks in which they can breastfeed and also that employers provide facilities where mothers can breastfeed and store milk.

It suggested amendments to the Equality Act 2010, which would make it obligatory for employers to have a formal written policy on breastfeeding and also make paid breaks mandatory.

This would bring the UK up to speed with other European countries who give working mothers with a baby less than a year old the right to paid breastfeeding breaks or a shorter working day.

It isn’t just breastfeeding or expressing that new mums are struggling with in the workplace.

Back in 2016 further research revealed that that a staggering three quarters of pregnant women and working mums face discrimination in the workplace, with one in nine losing their job as a result.

The research, conducted by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC, found one in five mums claim to have experienced harassment or negative comments in the workplace related to pregnancy or flexible working.

But only one in four of the 3,000 mothers surveyed raised it with their employer, with less than one per cent taking cases to tribunal.

In recent years strides have been made to try and de-stigmatise breastfeeding in public and at work.

Back in 2017, Senator Larissa Waters made political history by becoming the first mother to breast feed her baby in the Australian parliament.

But though it is becoming more accepted it doesn’t stop some mothers feeling embarrassed about breastfeeding in public.

Last year a woman was shamed by a shopping centre after she wrote a Facebook post explaining that she was unable to find somewhere to breastfeed her baby.

And in December a mum-of-three revealed how she’s been criticised for feeding her baby in front of his older siblings.

The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

But in June last year 2018 the Royal College of Midwives (RCM)guidance published new guidance for mothers, claiming mums should not be shamed into breastfeeding and their choice to bottle feed must be respected.

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