Employers urged to support breastfeeding mums' return to work
The Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland (HPA) is urging employers here to be more supportive of mothers who wish to continue breastfeeding once they return to work, after research showed that just 1 in 10 breastfeeding mothers in Northern Ireland have been supported to continue breastfeeding after going back to work.¹
As a result the HPA is addressing the issue by highlighting it during Breastfeeding Awareness Week (11-17 May) which has been running nationally since 1993. The HPA has produced the publication Breastfeeding and returning to work, aimed at pregnant women and new mothers who are thinking about combining breastfeeding and working outside the home.
Janet Calvert, Regional Breastfeeding Coordinator for the HPA, said: "Research shows that in comparison to other parts of the UK mums in Northern Ireland are significantly more likely to return to full-time work after maternity leave, particularly after their first baby, and this ultimately has an impact on their decision as to whether or not they will continue breastfeeding their baby.1 If a mother knows she will be able to combine breastfeeding and working she may not have to stop breastfeeding when she returns to work.
"We know the healthiest children are those who have been breastfed exclusively for the first six months, and then when solids have been introduced ideally breastfeeding should continue until the end of the first year. Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from ear, chest and kidney infections, gastroenteritis, childhood obesity, diabetes and severe eczema as there are special components in breastmilk which boost the immune system."
Employers will benefit from supporting these mothers as more will return to work, which will reduce the need to take on new staff and train them. Breastfed babies will mean fewer visits to the doctor and less time off to care for sick children. Also, breastfeeding women are less likely to suffer certain illnesses such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer or osteoporosis. Better support for breastfeeding workers will increase morale and loyalty, and the business will be more attractive to future employees.
Roy McClelland, Principal of Kells and Connor Primary School, said: "As a father I feel it is important to enable women to keep breastfeeding and as an employer this has actually been very easy to do and is just about being flexible and valuing your staff. This has not interfered with our work requirements in any way and in fact has been beneficial both for the employer and employee."
Claire Fisher, teacher at Kells and Connor Primary School, explained how she was able to continue breastfeeding when she returned to work. Claire said: "I arranged childcare near the school and thanks to the flexible approach of my employer I was able to feed Erin at lunch time and express my milk at work when I needed to. I'm still breastfeeding and I wouldn't have been able to return to work as early as I did without the continued support of my employer."
Janet continued: "All that is required from an employer to support a breastfeeding mother at work is a clean, quiet room where she can express milk in private. She may need one or two breaks of about 20 minutes to do this depending on the age of the baby when they return to work, and ideally access to a fridge where she can place a cool bag with ice pack inside it for the milk to be stored during the day. An employer is obliged to make it possible for a woman to breastfeed while working but the employee must inform her employer in writing in advance of her return to work so plans can be made to enable the mother to express her milk at work.
"Despite Northern Ireland having the lowest breastfeeding rate in Europe there has been major progress in the last ten years, with the breastfeeding rate increasing from 54% in 2000 to 63% in 2005. While it is still a lower rate compared to England, Scotland and Wales, the increase over this period was greater in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK.1 However, recent figures have shown that 9 out of 10 mothers in Northern Ireland give up breastfeeding in the early weeks largely due to lack of support and preventable problems, so there is still much work to be done."2
Thirty thousand copies of the booklet have been produced and will be distributed throughout Northern Ireland. A pdf of the booklet can be downloaded at www.healthpromotionagency.org.uk/Resources/
The HPA has also produced a booklet for employers, Promoting breastfeeding for mothers returning to work: a guide for employers, which can be viewed at www.healthpromotionagency.org.uk/Resources/
Janet Calvert will be available for interview on Tuesday 13 May at the HPA, 18 Ormeau Avenue, Belfast. Contact the press office to arrange interviews.
1. The UK Infant Feeding Survey 2000. Hamlyn et al, May 2002.
2. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Northern Ireland health and social wellbeing survey 2006. Belfast: NISRA, 2007.
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