Supporting Breastfeeding Employees in the Workplace
Supporting working mothers with their infant feeding goals benefits employers1 – e.g. by reducing skill/talent loss, increasing productivity of returning mothers at a time they often fall behind in the labour market2 – and wider society3. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state employers must provide breastfeeding employees somewhere suitable to rest. This area should be hygienic and private, provide somewhere to lie down and include facilities to store breast milk. It is specifically stated that toilets are not a suitable place. The employer is required to consider any risks to breastfeeding employees in an individual risk assessment. However, there is more to supporting breastfeeding employers than simply providing somewhere to express milk, and our project aims to research and understand this issue in more depth. Early insights from our research suggest there are some simple initial steps that organisations can take to support breastfeeding employees and their mental well-being:
- Organise a meeting with returning breastfeeding employees to discuss their needs and concerns, rather than these employees having to ask for accommodations
- Provide a more transparent breastfeeding policy, with clarity around rest breaks, available facilities and any other available accommodations such as working from home
- Ensure safe, private, accessible, convenient and hygienic facilities. Examples of issues raised by our research participants include concerns about the cleanliness and temperature of the fridge, lack of privacy, inadequate facilities, facilities being locked or too far away from their work space.
We are keen to engage and work with the employer side so we can get to the heart of workplace challenges, as well as working with charities and organisations that support mothers and their infant feeding goals. There are several ways organisations can become involved with the project.
What are the benefits of your organisation taking part?
Given the topic of breastfeeding is not often discussed in the workplace, we aim to raise awareness of some of the challenges faced by breastfeeding employees. We will produce research informed practical workplace guidance for HR professionals and line managers on how to support mothers wishing to continue to breastfeeding upon return to paid work. . Your participation, alongside our research of the mother perspective, will help us identify existing good workplace policy and practice, and areas for improvement. We also would like to co-design workplace policy and guidance with interested organisations. Those organisations taking part in phase 2 (see below) will get a better understanding of what works and doesn’t work within their organisation.
How can you help us?
If you are a HR professional, involved in workplace policy, or a line manager you can support us by taking part in surveys and focus groups. We expect to launch surveys in Autumn 2023 and undertake focus groups in 2024.
Are you an organisation that has an existing breastfeeding policy or wish to implement one? We want to undertake case studies which will have two phases.
Phase 1: We will ask for submission of short case studies of existing workplace support, policy and practice at organisations, to understand existing policy and practice.
Phase 2: For those organisation who wish to be involved further, we will undertake extended case studies. These case studies will evaluate existing policy and practice within the organisation, and/or co-design policy and practice to better support breastfeeding employees. These case studies will involve talking to/surveying HR professionals, line managers and employees within your organisation, building on the knowledge we have gained thus far through the project.
Are you an organisation If you are an organisation or charity that would be interested in becoming a case study or would like to co-design workplace policy/guidance, please contact us using our contact form. We’re keen to involve organisations and charities in our project design and to receive feedback, so we’d love to hear from you.
As the project progresses we will post summaries of our findings and recommendations for good workplace practice. If you would like to be kept up to date with the project, found out opportunities to be involved and events then join our mailing list by signing up below:
Employer Guidance on Accommodating Breastfeeding Employees
- Del Bono, E and Pronzato, C. (2022) Does breastfeeding support at work help mothers, children, and employers at the same time? Journal of Demographic Economics, 1-28
- Costa Dias, M., Joyce, R. and Parodi. F. (2020) The gender pay gap in the UK: children and experience in work. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 36(4), 855–881
- Rollins, N. et al. (2016) Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices?’, The Lancet, 387(10017), 491–504