Addressing Employer Concerns

Breastfeeding isn’t really that important

Breastfeeding employees don’t need any particular support

Breastfeeding employees will be more tired and less productive

Breastfeeding women shouldn’t be at work anyway

Breastfeeding is an intimate activity which should remain in the home

Lack of space

Difficulty with scheduling options

Resistance from other employees

Cost of providing facilities


The Issue:
Breastfeeding isn’t really that important
Response:

  •  WHO recommends all children should be breastfed exclusively until 6 months and then complemented by appropriate foods until 2 years old (World Health Organisation 2003). 
  • Breastfeeding has important positive health advantages (including in developed countries) for both mother and child, benefits which continue even after breastfeeding has ceased (Ministry of Health, NZ Breastfeeding Authority). 
  • Lack of requests for breastfeeding assistance (by employees of their employers) does not indicate that a substantial need does not exist. 
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The Issue:
Breastfeeding employees don’t need any particular support
Response:
  • Breastfeeding is initiated by up to 90% of women and returning to work is cited as one of the biggest barriers to continued breastfeeding. A supportive environment can make all the difference (Plunket 2009, Galtry 2000). 
  • Breastfeeding signals difference in the workplace and that alone can cause stress which good employers can mitigate by supportive workplace practices and culture. 
  • Continuing to breastfeed will require some small accommodations in allowing time (up to 2-3 times per day to feed or express) and space (access to a private area or provision to travel to one) for a short period of time. (Infants feeding needs will change quickly in the first 12 months). 
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The Issue:
Breastfeeding employees will be more tired and less productive
Response:
  • All new parents are tired no matter how they feed their baby. Breastfeeding women are no more fatigued than non-breastfeeding women. (Callahan 2006) 
  • A supportive workplace can lower stress and help women to feed or express with greater ease and to feel good about continuing to provide the best nutrition for their child. 
  • Women who are supported with their breastfeeding at work show greater loyalty and employee engagement than women who aren’t. High employee engagement results in greater productivity. (EEO Trust, 2007) 
  • Employees who breastfeed their children have less sick days and higher rate of return following parental leave than employees who artificially feed. (Cohen 1995, Smith 2009) 
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The Issue:
Breastfeeding women shouldn’t be at work anyway
Response:
  • Like men, women work for many reasons. 
  • Research has shown that there are two main groups of women who return to work when their children are young; one group work in high occupational categories and have high levels of skills and qualifications. These women gain a significant amount of identification and pleasure from the work, have a large investment in their education and training and are in high demand by employers. The second group is conversely in lower occupational categories with lower incomes. For this latter group, working is often an economic necessity. (Galtry 2000, Payne & James 2008) 
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The Issue:
Breastfeeding is an intimate activity which should remain in the home
Response:
  • Supporting employees to continue to breastfeed not only has significant health benefits for the mother and child but also direct benefits to the organisation and the economy; e.g. lower absenteeism, higher return rate from parental leave and increased employee engagement and loyalty. 
  • Modesty concerns can be managed by providing access to a private space for breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk. 
  • Acceptance in the workplace can be assisted by senior managers modelling clear support for the breastfeeding programme. 
  • Although breastfeeding is natural and normal, women’s breasts are widely used to sell commercial products or as provocative images and are rarely portrayed as a natural part of infant nutrition causing some people to feel awkward about breastfeeding in public. 
  • Breastfeeding as an acceptable social norm is a sign of a healthy population. 
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The Issue:
Lack of space
Response:
  • Organisations are only required to provide that which is reasonable and practicable. Many organisations in the past have found space for smoking rooms and other lifestyle initiatives. 
  • The most important part of a successful Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace is the willingness to look for solutions. 
  • A dedicated breastfeeding room may be as small as 1.5 metres by 1.5 metres. 
  • Other options include:
    • Employee's own office. 
    • Use of an existing sick bay, prayer room, meeting room, resource room etc. a lockable door and roster will assist in ease of use. 
    • An unused office or one which is able to be easily vacated two or three times a day. 
    • A quiet curtained or screened off area of the workplace. 
  • Where organisations cannot provide all or any appropriate facilities, provision of appropriate breaks will allow the mother to go to the child to breastfeed; either to where the child is being cared for or at a convenient place which has breastfeeding facilities, e.g. an early childhood centre or large shopping mall. 
  • Discussing the available options with the employee is essential. 

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The Issue:
Difficulty with scheduling options
Response:

  • Breastfeeding employees have relatively simple needs and evidence supports that their need for flexible scheduling is cost effective. 
  • The need for flexible scheduling is temporary and will reduce as the child grows older. 
  • The employer and employee can explore her personal work schedule to help devise appropriate feeding or expressing times. 
  • Any extra time required can be added on to regular breaks. 
  • The number of breaks and amount of time needed to feed varies between depending on many factors. Most breastfeeding employees will not require more than 30 minutes twice per day and this time will lessen as the child grows. 
  • Supporting breastfeeding means supporting healthy activities which have positive benefits for the employer as well as the mother, child and society at large; breastfeeding lowers health care costs; in the past smokers have been provided breaks to support an unhealthy practice. 
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The Issue:
Resistance from other employees
Response:
  • Research has demonstrated that where employees have had actual experience of working with a colleague who breastfeeds they are more supportive of women breastfeeding on return to work than employees who haven’t had that experience (Suyes et al 2008). 
  • Staff who are uncomfortable with women breastfeeding may need assistance in recognising that feeding a child in the healthiest way possible is a positive behaviour than needs reinforcement and that any breastfeeding accommodations made are only temporary. 
  • Resistant staff may need information on the benefits to the organisation of supporting employees who breastfeed. 
  • Senior management’s support of breastfeeding will greatly assist acceptance within the rest of the workforce. 
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The Issue:
Cost of providing facilities
Response:
  • There may be some initial costs; these could include the fit out of a room to ensure privacy & comfort (blinds, lock, chair, clock, mirror) and/or the addition of extra breaks (for example a total of 1 hour a day for 6 months). 
  • Any immediate costs incurred can be offset in the longer term with improved retention rate, lower absenteeism costs, increased loyalty and positive public relations. (Cohen 1995, Galtry 1997, EEO Trust 2007)
  • Family friendly policies have been found to significantly contribute towards increased employee engagement leading to increased productivity and higher shareholder return. (EEO Trust 2007) 
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References
  • Callahan, S. et al. Fatigue and breastfeeding an inevitable partnership? Journal of Human Lactation 22 (2) 
  • Cohen, R. et al. Comparison of maternal absenteeism and infant illness rates among breastfeeding and formula-feeding women in two corporations. American Journal of Health Promotion 10 (2) 1995 
  • EEO Trust. Worklife Balance: Employee engagement and discretionary effort. 2007 
  • Galtry, J. Policies and practices to support breastfeeding in the workplace. Research paper presented to WHO/UNICEF Technical Consultation on Infant and Young Child Feeding. March WHO 2000 
  • Ministry of Health Breasfteeding
  • NZ Breastfeeding Authority
  • Payne, D. & James, L. (2008). Making breastfeeding and work. Mothers’ experiences of returning to work and breastfeeding: A New Zealand study. Breastfeeding Review, 16 (2), 21 – 25. 
  • Plunket Statistics 2009
  • Smith, J. How employers can profit from breastfeeding. Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health. 2009 
  • Suyes, K. Abrahams, W. Labbok, M. Breastfeeding in the workplace: Other employees' attitudes towards services for lactating mothers. International Breastfeeding Journal. Oct 2008 
  • World Health Organisation and UNICEF Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding 2003, WHO, Geneva 
  • Galtry, J. Suckling and Silence in the USA: The Costs and Benefits of Breastfeeding, Feminist Economics 3 (3) 1997