This article was in the Guardian this morning and seems to be prompting a fair amount of attention on my twitterfeed. I breastfed all three children so I have some experience in this area. I know some women can’t breastfeed and some find it incredible difficult and I am not criticising anyone in these situations.
“Andrew Lansley says workplaces must help mothers who want to breastfeed
Employers will be urged to provide private areas where women can feed their babies or express milk as part of a Department of Health initiative to be unveiled this week
Workplaces should offer mothers private rooms where they can breastfeed their babies or express milk for them, ministers will urge this week. Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, wants employers to do more to help women with babies as part of a drive to increase the UK‘s low rates of breastfeeding and boost children’s health. He will also propose that new mothers should be given more flexible breaks to help them express and breastfeed and fridges in which to store bottles.
This sounds like an exciting new idea but it is already recommended as good practice and has been for some time. This is from an HSE leaflet reprinted in 2009 and first published in 2001 ‘a guide for new and expectant mothers who work’
“Your employer is required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest. HSE recommends to employers that it is good practice to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for nursing mothers to express and store milk (but this is not a legal requirement). It is not suitable to use toilets for this purpose.”
Going back to the article, Lansley says:
“Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to give babies good health, but our society doesn’t always make it easy for new mums to do it,” said Lansley. “If we can make it easier, more mums would breastfeed and they might do it for longer, giving their children the best start in life.”
Lansley wants to help narrow the gap in breastfeeding rates between women in routine and manual jobs – where 66% of new mothers breastfeed – and those in professional occupations, 88% of whom breastfeed. DH sources said the move “is a huge departure from the traditional central government approach of trying to solve problems by hoarding power at the centre and simply lecturing people about their health and wellbeing.”
I am not convinced that making it a legal requirement to provide somewhere to express milk once you are back at work will make the difference. In my experience, the problem is getting people to start breastfeeding in the first place or to continue beyond a few days. Very, very few women return to work within such a short space of time. The ones that are committed enough to want to go through the rigmarole of expressing milk at work (I have done this with my middle son and it was not easy, even though I was provided with a room for the purpose and had the best battery pump money could buy) are already ‘sold’ on the idea. Many families I work with are white, working class and the Mums are very young (mostly teenage). Their mothers were very young when they had them and didn’t breastfeed. Because they were so young when they had their first child, they were mostly living with their Mum who then had a huge influence on their parenting. So they didn’t breastfeed either. The cycle starts very early and is very difficult to break. The best way does not involve rocket science, it’s through education via Sure Start and other well-funded early intervention programmes with professional staff. Good Early Years Visitors work hard over a long period of time to build trusting relationships with families, they don’t go around “simply lecturing people about their health and wellbeing.”
Some other disincentives to breastfeed are to do with society’s attitudes to breasts in this country – I give you The Sun, page 3. You have to be made of strong stuff to breastfeed in public in my opinion because you do often get stared at. If your baby doesn’t latch on easily (this just means gets its mouth round properly to get the milk flowing) you need to be able to look at it. Which you can’t do if you are all covered up with scarves to make sure you are not offending anyone.
TV adverts for formula milk make bottle feeding seem like the norm too. I haven’t seen many adverts for breastfeeding, partly because of the last point I suspect.
One other thing that struck me in the article was this:
“The Department of Health is working with several as yet unnamed private companies that will try out the scheme which, Lansley stressed, would involve no new costs for businesses.”
Why do we need private companies? What will they do which won’t cost anything to businesses? Or will new mothers be charged for expressing milk during breaks?
There is lots of information here on a longstanding campaign against the promotion of formula milk in the developing world by NESTLE from the Baby Milk Action Coalition. http://www.babymilkaction.org/
And finally, as an employer in a small business, there is no way I could provide a separate room for breastfeeding staff; there simply isn’t the space.