World Breastfeeding Week 2022
It’s World Breastfeeding Week this week, organised every year by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). This year they’re asking people with different roles across different levels of society to ‘step up for breastfeeding – educate and support.’ By asking governments, healthcare systems, workplaces and communities to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, their mission is to strengthen the capacity to sustain breastfeeding-friendly environments for families in a post-pandemic world.
Of course, there are many different demands on new parents, which sometimes mean that those who want to breast/chestfeed haven’t always got the support to continue to do so. Busy working schedules, along with the many other challenges that parents face can mean that they don’t feel that breast/chestfeeding their child when they return to work is something that is accessible or an option to them. But this doesn’t have to be the case and there are certain things a business can do to help facilitate those who wish to continue to feed their infant on their return to work.
What does breast/chest feeding at work mean?
For some, who may live close to their workplace, it could mean going home or to their child’s nearby nursery to breast/chestfeed or it could be that the child is brought to the workplace by the caregiver to be fed. For most, especially in the UK where there is the option to take up to 12 months of Maternity leave, the likely scenario is that the employee will need to express milk, which will be stored and given to the infant later.
Whatever the employee chooses to do, accommodations should be made to help facilitate the return to work of the nursing employee, because returning to work doesn’t mean breast/chestfeeding has to stop.
And in the midst of the ‘Great Resignation’ if employees who have recently had babies can be welcomed back to work in a supportive manner, it will likely increase morale and loyalty, potentially saving the burden of the hiring process that other businesses are currently facing.
So, for World Breastfeeding Week 2022, how can workplaces step up?
How can employers step-up for breast/chestfeeding employees?
1. Foster a breast/chestfeeding friendly culture
Creating a breast/chestfeeding friendly culture, is understanding what employees need and then making those needs normalised and part of everyday expectations of work. You might want to create a support group of other employees who have successfully returned to work whilst still feeding their baby, who can help support, mentor and advocate on behalf of returning employees.
As others will see breast/chestfeeding as the norm, if they then become pregnant themselves, they’ll know how supportive the workplace is for them to return once their parental leave has ended.
Promoting a supportive return to work environment for breast/chestfeeding employees through greater awareness and application of parental policies will help to foster a positive culture.
2. Have a specific breast/chestfeeding policy
Acas recommends that it’s good practice for an employer to have a policy on breast/chestfeeding, that sets out an employee’s feeding choices and any changes to working practices that will be considered.
The policy will encourage employees and management to have a positive, accepting attitude toward people who are breast/chestfeeding and that the discrimination or harassment of breast/chestfeeding employees in any form is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Consider writing new or updating any existing policies and documents using gender inclusive language. Whilst the majority of the time it’s likely to be a mother returning from maternity leave who is requesting to breastfeed – and this language is fine to use with them – recognising that not every person who has a baby considers themselves female or a mother ensures inclusion for all, and having inclusive terminology promotes the positive culture you’re trying to foster.
Using inclusive and affirming language ensures that all parents feel safe and comfortable, especially when returning to work after a baby can be daunting. Choosing language to be inclusive of trans and non-binary birthing people, without excluding the language of motherhood is considerate and a positive step forward.
AdviserPlus can help you write and update policies, as well as empower managers to actively follow and engage with them for any returning employees.
3. Practical considerations / facilities
It’s good practice to conduct a risk assessment when an employee is returning from parental leave.
If the employee has chosen to return whilst still breast/chestfeeding, then you can accommodate this by providing a private room for them to feed or express milk. The room should be private, clean and located near a sink for washing hands and rinsing breast pump parts. The toilet or in their car is not a suitable place, as proven by the recent employment tribunal ruling, where it was ruled that by not providing a suitable space to breastfeed, this was considered sexual harassment. If in doubt about where a suitable location is, speak to the employee about what they would prefer.
Where possible there should also be a secure, clean fridge that the employee can store expressed milk in.
4. Flexible working and reasonable adjustments
Whilst many parents decide to return on a part-time basis for a variety of reasons, flexible working should be considered for employees who are returning whilst continuing to breast/chestfeed. It is worth noting that these arrangements are likely to be temporary so wouldn’t require a change to their employment contracts, but be mindful of putting time restraints around the request, because ultimately it’s up to the employee how long they want to breast/chestfeed for.
The flexibility you introduce could include allowing for additional breaks or allowing the employee to travel home/to the child’s nursery to feed the child. It could be extending breaks or leaving work early, and whichever it is, it’s important that the requests are reasonable and minimise the disruption to the business. Speak to the employee to understand what would suit them best and try to accommodate where reasonably possible.
5. Empower your managers
In every organisation, it’s important that there is consistency across the board, and in a large organisation, infrequent or uncommon requests are often the hardest to stay consistent on. But with empower® by AdviserPlus, managers self-serve through policies and guided journeys, where the actions they need to complete to accommodate such requests are clearly explained and set out step-by-step. By managing these requests in the right way, and in the same way throughout the business, you can be confident that managers are stepping up to support employees in the best possible way, without having to involve the HR team.
Stepping up as an employer
Whilst there are certain legal requirements when welcoming back a nursing employee, there are also lots of ways as a business that you can support and accommodate those requests and step up for breast/chestfeeding employees.
If you’re thinking of introducing a breast/chestfeeding policy or would like to talk about how you can empower your line managers to manage such requests in a fair, consistent and compliant way, get in touch with us today.