Monday marked the start of World Breastfeeding Week, an international effort to raise awareness about the need for businesses to have breastfeeding policies in place to support mothers returning to work.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association has launched a Friendly Workplace Program, which provides businesses with resources to create a work environment that allows for employees to breastfeed or pump at work. In Australia, 96 per cent of women exclusively breastfeed after giving birth, but that figure drops to 15 per cent within five months. One of the primary factors for women not continuing to exclusively breastfeed through the recommended six months is return to work.
Rebecca Naylor, CEO of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), says businesses should recognise the role they play in supporting employees who wish to breastfeed.
The incentives for having a breastfeeding-friendly workspace range from monetary to behavioral.
“We know there are improved retention rates, longer durations of service and improved morale in workspaces where women feel supported,” she says. Studies have also shown that companies with lactation support programs have reduced medical claims for employees and their infants – up to three times less.
The ABA gives six guidelines for creating an effective workplace breastfeeding policy. They include:
- A clear statement of who is covered under the policy, such as full-time workers, part-time workers, casual workers, etc.;
- The specifics of lactation breaks, including duration;
- Details of the facilities available;
- Relevant flexible work arrangements;
- Links to related policies (ie maternity leave, flexible work, etc.); and
- Where to seek guidance on implementing the policy.
Naylor says that successful work breastfeeding policies stem from management creating a culture of support for women who wish to continue breastfeeding, as well as clear policies about what forms this support will take.
“It’s about businesses proactively supporting mothers who are returning to work,” she says. “Women are 50 per cent of the workforce, and having proactive breastfeeding policies can go a long way towards making a business an employer of choice.”
There are simple steps businesses can take to make sure a work environment is comfortable for all employees.
- Communication and education are important to help breastfeeding employees feel supported at work. Speak with staff about why employees would want to continue breastfeeding. It’s important to maintain open lines of communication and allow workers to express any reservations or concerns they have about breastfeeding policies.
- Organise lactation breaks so employees can take time to pump or breastfeed. This can be on an as-needed basis, scheduled times or incorporated into already existing break times.
- Provide employees with an onsite, designated room with a comfortable chair, a small refrigerator to store expressed milk and space to store pumps if necessary.
Naylor says that having an office breastfeeding policy is another way for businesses to support workers to balance home life and work life.
Workplaces can register with the Australian Breastfeeding Association to become an accredited breastfeeding friendly workplace. There are currently 120 employers in Australia with this certification.