06 Nov

Guest Blog: Shared Parental Leave & Breastfeeding

Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi

As part of our #MakingItWork campaign, this guest blog by Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi (York St John University) explores the impact that shared parental leave can have on breastfeeding.

Introduction

The reduction of maternity leave by way of shared parental leave raises the question of what impact it could have on breastfeeding. The WHO recommends two years breastfeeding with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the baby’s life. Since the introduction of shared parental leave, the uptake has been low (2%), and the question is whether breastfeeding could be one of the reasons for the low uptake.

I am a mother of two, I breastfed my first daughter for 10 months and stopped because she just wouldn’t take it anymore. I felt bad because I wanted to be able to breastfeed for longer. I breastfed my second daughter for 15months. The bond and the emotional attachment to the baby when breastfeeding could not be the same if I had to bottle feed. Breastfeeding my first daughter was so hard at the beginning because I was very ill after giving birth, but the support my husband gave me helped me to carry on. I recognise the importance of breastfeeding and I recognise the importance of dads being there to support the mother and bond with the baby (which was what happened in my case). I was super excited when shared parental leave was introduced but questioning how it might impact on breastfeeding. I then set how to investigate which I here present the key findings.

The research was conducted through an online survey to investigate the impact of shared parental leave on breastfeeding. The survey was restricted to mothers who were pregnant or had babies after the 5th of April 2015 (when shared parental leave started). The survey was designed to collect qualitative data on mother’s experience and opinion on shared parental leave and breastfeeding. The survey retained 460 responses with rich qualitative data.

Key findings:

  • 95% of the mothers agreed that breastfeeding was the preferred choice for young babies and were aware of the benefits
  • 72.7% breastfed or planned to breastfeed for 49 weeks which is still less than the recommended two years by the WHO.
  • 96.1% of the mothers breastfed their babies on demand in the first 6 months.
  • 88.5% of the mothers knew what shared parental leave was
  • 17.2% had heard of shared parental leave from their employers
  • 59.7% said they had a workplace policy on shared parental leave
  • 43.6% of the mothers felt they would have to stop breastfeeding if they took shared parental leave.
  • 24.9% of the mothers took shared parental leave
  • 57.4% of the mothers were happy to express breastmilk at work
  • 42.6% of the mothers said they were not happy to express
  • 34% of the mothers said they were supported in the workplace to breastfeed
  • 48.9% of the mothers were not provided with any resources at work to encourage breastfeeding.
  • 47% said they were provided with a private room and sockets but no fridge

Key themes:

  • Most employers are not supporting breastfeeding mothers at work. Consequently, some mothers stop breastfeeding after returning to work.
  • Mothers who are not happy to express breastmilk will not take shared parental leave
  • Mothers who are happy to express breastmilk at work would take shared parental leave if the employer is supportive of breastfeeding at work.
  • Some mothers thought that shared parental leave and breastfeeding had no impact on each other. However, the thoughts were slightly limited to the first six months because most of the mothers (85.6%) were on maternity leave for at least the first six months and breastfed their babies exclusively in the first six months as recommended by WHO.
  • Most of the mothers who took shared parental leave or went back to work after 6 months massively reduced breastfeeding frequency and some stopped breastfeeding altogether.
  • Mothers who placed more value on breastfeeding dismissed the idea of shared parental leave entirely especially if they wanted to breastfeed for longer than 48 weeks.
  • Some mothers felt they were put under pressure to be to express breastmilk because if shared parental leave.
  • Societal pressure and ‘unacceptance’ of breastfeeding make some mothers not to breastfeed and shared parental leave was viewed as one of such ‘unacceptance’ of breastfeeding.

Conclusion

Breastfeeding is a contributory factor to the low uptake of shared parental leave and shared parental leave is also contributing to the low rate of breastfeeding in the UK.


To read more about Making It Work, BfN’s campaign for breastfeeding mothers returning to work or study, click the image below: