One in three breastfeeding mums are being forced to use a toilet to express milk when they return to work, a new study has found.
Thousands of women encounter a shocking lack of support when returning to work, with 56 percent saying they’ve had to express milk in unsuitable places, including the staff room (18 percent), their car (14 percent) and their desk (11 percent).
As a result, 30 percent said they’ve suffered with problems while trying to express, including issues with their supply, infections and anxiety.
These difficulties resulted in 30 percent of mums stopping earlier than they would have liked.
A 36 year old pharmaceutical worker, who wishes to remain anonymous through fear of losing her job, said she knows all too well the struggles this research reveals.
The mum of one, who splits her time between head office and working on the road, said: “At head office there isn’t a specific room to use, so I have to try and find an empty office or conference room, which don’t have locks or any privacy. I’ve had to use the toilets on many occasions.
“Sometimes I’ve just gone back to the car park and expressed in my car. It’s not acceptable but I don’t really have a choice.”
Currently, the law does not require an employer to grant paid breaks from a job in order to breastfeed or to express milk for storage. The law only states that breastfeeding mothers should have a place to rest.
While many bosses appeared to be supportive, half of breastfeeding mums returning to work said their employer didn’t know what to do, didn’t have any facilities or felt embarrassed by the conversation, according to the survey by law firm Slater and Gordon.
Paula Chan, a specialist employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “This research is concerning- no mother should feel forced to express milk for her child in a toilet.
“People would be horrified at the thought of food being prepared in such unhygienic conditions so it’s unacceptable that we are in a situation where that is considered to be an option when preparing milk for a baby.”
The 36 year old mum of one also raised the issue of storing milk.
She said: “There is nowhere to keep the expressed milk so I’m forced to throw it away. Breast milk is like gold dust. To go through all that effort, and then it’s gone, is just heart-breaking.
“It’s such a waste and ultimately it’s my son who is losing out on precious milk.”
Seven in ten of the women surveyed said their employer never broached the subject before they returned to work, leaving them to raise the issue themselves.
But 29 percent said they were too embarrassed to have a conversation about breastfeeding.
Feeling unable to approach the topic with their boss left many women experiencing negative consequences, such as embarrassing leaks (22 percent), exclusion from conversations (13 percent) and missing out on important meetings (11 percent).
The mother of one added: “There was a time when I first started with the company and I could feel myself lactating. I hadn’t had the chance to express before the meeting had started and ended up leaking all over my shirt. I had to spend the rest of the meeting trying to cover the wet stains with my blazer.
“I didn’t feel I was able to leave and just sat there. It was so embarrassing.
“I also had back to back meetings from 8:30am till 5:30pm, with no lunch. Any ten minute break I would get was just not enough time to express. As a result I’ve had many infections from not being able to express or feed my baby on time.”
An issue which was also addressed in the research with one in ten mothers saying they had developed mastitis, an infection caused by a build-up of milk.
The research, that polled 2,000 breastfeeding mums who had a baby within the last five years, was commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon, after they heard reports from new mums who had no idea that employers should make certain provisions upon their return to work.
One in three said the issues around breastfeeding at work made them feel anxious and stressed and one in ten went as far as to say it made them feel ‘side-lined’.
Paula Chan, added: “Employers need to recognise that supporting women with breastfeeding is not only a matter of safeguarding their health and well-being and that of their child, but will undoubtedly mean returning mothers feel supported and more engaged, which in turn will help employers retain key talent.”
Tips for breastfeeding mothers returning to work:
1. Plan your discussion with your employer in advance of your return
2. Consider a request for flexible working, such as asking for reduced hours
3. Consider whether there is a health and safety risk to you and your baby
4. Know your rights
5. Take action if your employer is not supportive and you have concerns about harm to you or your baby or in relation to possible discrimination or harassment.