25 Apr

Breastfeeding Mothers Returning to Work – Top 5 Tips

Law firm Slater and Gordon recently published a report on the rights of breastfeeding mothers returning to work, highlighting the fact that many employers are unaware of the law. Slater and Gordon have written the following guest blog for us, explaining the top five things you need to know about returning to work whilst continuing to breastfeed.

1. Plan your discussion with your employer in advance of your return

Take time to consider the support and facilities you need to help you breastfeed or express at work before you go back to work and plan to have a conversation with your manager or HR, ideally well in advance of your return date. You may wish to use one of your KIT days to arrange a meeting.

The support you need will very much depend on your own personal circumstances. Some mothers would like to visit their baby during the working day and others plan to express breastmilk. 

Check whether your employer has a breastfeeding policy, or a return to work policy outlining the type of support they provide or what you need to do to request support. Most good employers will.

2. Know your rights

The law does not currently allow a simple, straightforward right to breastfeeding breaks though employers are required to provide a place for breastfeeding mothers to rest.

In terms of breastfeeding support, the Health and Safety Executive and guidance from the European Commission recommend that employers should provide:

  • access to a private room where women can breastfeed or express breast milk;
  • use of secure, clean refrigerators for storing expressed breast milk while at work, and
  • facilities for washing, sterilising and storing receptacles.

The ladies toilet for example is never a suitable place in which to breastfeed a baby or collect milk.

ACAS guidance also gives the following advice to employers when asked to consider additional breaks for breastfeeding:

“Employers should consider providing short breaks for breastfeeding or expressing milk, weighing it up against the likely impact it might have on the business. Employers should be careful not to discriminate against breastfeeding employees. If employers are unable to grant additional breaks, they could consider slightly extending normal breaks for the employee such as a mid-morning coffee break or leaving earlier in the day to minimise any disruption to the business.”

3. Consider a request for flexible working, such as for reduced hours

If you have worked for your employer continuously for 26 weeks, you have the right to make a request for flexible working. You are likely to qualify to ask as maternity leave counts as continuous service.

You might want to reduce your hours, change which hours you work (to start later or finish earlier) or work the same number of hours but over fewer days. You may also want to work from home or as a job share, or return part-time. Your employer must agree to flexible working where it can accommodate the request, but can turn it down on business grounds defined in flexible working regulations (there are 8 grounds including inability to meet client demand and detrimental impact on performance). However, it must make sure it does not discriminate and cannot simply refuse a request without fair process or reasons.

Employers are obliged to deal with requests in a reasonable manner. If your employer refuses your request you should have a right to appeal your employer’s decision so that you have an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings or explore other options. If you do not appeal there is a risk that this implies you accept the decisions made.

If it is still refused you should seek legal advice, as you may have claims for discrimination, including indirect discrimination if your employer for example has a policy or practice which disadvantages women and which cannot be justified by the employer.

For example, an employer might require all posts to be full time. If a breastfeeding employee asked for a temporary alteration in her hours in order to continue breastfeeding and she would be disadvantaged if this was refused (because she would be unable to breastfeed), her employer should grant her request unless there are good business reasons for refusing.

4. Consider whether there is a health and safety risk to you and your baby, and know your rights

Is there a risk to your health or safety or that of your baby from your working conditions or hours?

All employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees. While you are breastfeeding, you and your baby have special health and safety protection under the same regulations that give protection to pregnant employees.

Employers of women of childbearing age employers must also carry out a ‘specific’ risk assessment of risks to new and expectant mothers arising from ‘any processes, working conditions, physical, biological and chemical agents’.

Some hazardous substances can enter breastmilk and might pose a risk to your baby. If your work brings you into contact with a dangerous substance, your employer should take appropriate steps to make the job safe, remove that risk or if that is not possible they may have to explore temporarily changing your working conditions or hours, such as working shorter shifts, giving regular shifts or avoiding night work or overnight stays.

Reasonable action to protect your health and safety while you are breastfeeding could include adequate rest breaks to ensure proper nutrition, access to water and washing facilities. Your employer should ensure that the environment is not too hot or too cold. Employers should also consider levels of fatigue, stress and changes in posture.

If adjustments to your working hours or conditions would not remove identified risks, then you should be given a temporary transfer to alternative work, or suspended, without loss of pay.

5. If your employer is not supportive and you have concerns about harm to you or your baby or in relation to possible discrimination of harassment, know your options

If support is not forthcoming, then it may be concerns need to be raised. It’s usually best to raise concerns informally initially with your manager or HR, and if that isn’t successful, it may be necessary to raise concerns more formally in writing through a grievance process.  If the concerns relate to working hours, you may wish to firstly consider making a formal flexible working request. If support is still not forthcoming, you have to consider a more formal route again, such as exploring potential legal claims. You should seek support from your trade union or seek legal advice in these circumstances.

Do keep a record of the requests being made, the experiences you’ve had and the responses received.

It is worth noting that if you consider your situation is serious enough to merit taking legal action, there are strict time limits and you only have three months less one day from the date the last act of discrimination took place to lodge a start the compulsory ACAS Early Conciliation process with a view to bringing an Employment Tribunal claim.

It is important to take advice quickly and you should seek support from your trade union or take specialist advice if you find yourself in this situation.  

You can find information on returning to work, discrimination and flexible working on the Slater and Gordon website, and on the ACAS and gov.uk websites.

27 Jun

Feeding baby out and about in the UK?  What’s the fuss?

Fact: Feeding your baby out and about is protected by law. In Scotland breastfeeding is protected by the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005, which says that it is an offence to stop someone in a public place from feeding their child, if under two, with milk. The legislation allows for fines for preventing breastfeeding in public places.
In England & Wales this protection comes from the Equality Act 2010 (EA 10), which states that it is sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.
Fact: Few people know the legal position. While the law is more explicit in Scotland, does it offer more protection?  We don’t yet know as the current EA 10 law has not been tested in court. All cases brought have been settled out of the courts. (Hogan Lovells, 2015)
What does this mean for parents breastfeeding out and about in the UK?  This could mean that although the law is protective, it has little cultural influence at a societal or individual level unless it is better understood and adhered to.
Fact: Many women are worried about feeding in public places. They are worried about feeling embarrassed, possible negative reactions from the public and the risk of confrontation.
Fact: Communities in the UK are generally not supportive of breastfeeding (Victora, 2016).
Fact: Worries about feeding in public are real for women and form a serious barrier to starting to breastfeed, or can mean a mum stops breastfeeding before she wants to.
Although infrequent, there have been several high profile cases of women being vilified in public for breastfeeding outside the home. The negative treatment of breastfeeding women in the media affects feeding decisions. One mum recently told me that her reason not to breastfeed was that she was worried about feeding in public; she had since questioned herself and felt guilty about her decision. She became less assertive as she reflected on her experience but I was sorry to hear her apologise for something that was not within her control.
Was her choice not to breastfeed based on freedom or the lack of it?  Who is responsible for that? The law? The media? Society? The influence of an industry that repeatedly and blatantly blurs the line between breastmilk and formula?
Many women tell us they worry that if they do decide to breastfeed they will end up isolated from their friends and family because they don’t feel welcome to breastfeed their baby when they are out and about.
So, you can understand any woman or concerned relative being worried that she might be treated badly, even though we know that breastfeeding happens all the time and largely goes unnoticed. Most women have a positive experience of breastfeeding, but this isn’t seen or shared with others. Only the negative stories make the press. Whether it’s just perception or reality, the worry stops breastfeeding happening.
We need to change the conversation about feeding out and about. This doesn’t mean pitching individual women against each other or suggesting women are more discreet or, indeed, by asking individual women to speak up alone for breastfeeding.
We collectively need to support communities to understand and value breastfeeding so it can be seen as just a normal thing to do. This is only achieved if we can bring it out of the closet or home and into the mainstream in an open and celebrated way. This requires conversations with others outside of the present breastfeeding movement.
We know what works. It is essential that breastfeeding protection and support is embedded in all maternity care and birthing facilities. This must be accompanied by consistent training of medical professionals.
Using a peer support model, through which women support each other, is a proven way for them to develop skills and confidence to rehearse breastfeeding out and about. This has a positive impact on breastfeeding choice and duration (Hoddinott 2006, Blake Stevenson 2016).
Designating places as breastfeeding-friendly is another way a community can act together to declare support for the value of breastfeeding, with the intention of changing local culture one place at a time.  The Breastfeeding Network has developed a scheme with information for parents, families, businesses and organisations to use. It is simple and accessible and can be used in a variety of contexts: single small businesses, retail parks or even airlines! The information is available for anyone who wants to help make places more breastfeeding-friendly by equipping them with information to help change the conversation around breastfeeding. The BfN scheme helps families feel confident breastfeeding out and about, offers communities and businesses a way to show that they welcome and support breastfeeding, and raises awareness about the benefits of and barriers to breastfeeding.
While some might see schemes like this as controversial or as a necessary evil, many women report positively that breastfeeding friendly schemes helped them cross the threshold from home to out and about and allowed them to see and feel that their community would support their decision to breastfeed their baby.
As one mother put it, seeing a breastfeeding friendly scheme in operation by a coffee shop owner made ‘…me feel like I was being held by my community while I was holding my baby…’.

Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, Breastfeeding Network
Useful resources and references
The National Breastfeeding Helpline (0300 100 0212), offers independent, confidential, mothercentred, non-judgmental breastfeeding support and information from volunteers with experience who trained by The Breastfeeding Network and the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. Lines are open 9.30am – 9.30pm every single day of the year. Calls to the Helpline cost no more than calls to UK numbers starting 01 or 02 and are part of any inclusive minutes that apply to your mobile provider or call package.
Opinion on Breastfeeding Discrimination for Hogan Lovells International 2015
Hoddinott, P, et al (2006), One-to-One or Group-Based Peer Support for Breastfeeding?

Women’s Perceptions of a Breastfeeding Peer Coaching Intervention, Birth, 33: 139–146. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0730-7659.2006.00092.x/abstract

Unicef Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding: http://www.unicef.org/newsline/tenstps.htm

Breastfeeding Network: Breastfeeding-Friendly Scheme: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/bfn-breastfeeding-friendly-scheme/

Evaluation of Breastfeeding Network peer support https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/evaluation/
Victora, Cesar G. et al (2016), Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet, Volume 387, Issue 10017, 475 – 490.

For further information contact Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, @shereen_fisher, ceo@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk

A version of this blog first appeared on the UNICEF BFI website in August 2016