More than one third of New Zealand employers are unaware of workplace breastfeeding legislation, a figure reflected in the lack of support for breastfeeding employees found in a study undertaken by Women’s Health Action.
Women’s Health Action maternal health advisor, Isis McKay, says the study shows there is an urgent need to educate and support New Zealand businesses around the benefits of breastfeeding in the workplace and employers’ legal responsibilities.
‘Three quarters of employer respondents say they want more information and training to better support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.
Workplace support is key
‘The study identified a clear, positive correlation between the numbers of women continuing to breastfeed after returning to work when their employer provided good facilities and/or flexible working hours or break times. It also showed a distinct correlation with women ceasing breastfeeding after returning to work, when no support was offered by their employer,’ says Ms McKay.
While 54 per cent of the 484 employees who responded to the survey said their employers provided them with flexible hours and or private facilities to breastfeed, 20 percent said that no workplace support was available.
How supportive employers help
Rebecca Lamb returned to her role as marketing manager at ASB head office when her third child, Emma, was six months old.
‘I was lucky that my company was really supportive. When I returned to work, my husband brought Emma in so I could breastfeed her during the day. I did that until she was about one year old. For a further three months after that, I pumped breast milk during work hours.
‘ASB has its own dedicated breastfeeding room. It was a huge help; I’m not sure I could have continued without that, as it’s pretty hard juggling breastfeeding and working,’ says Mrs Lamb.
Could you choose between work or family?
Not all breastfeeding employees are so lucky.
Briar Irwin began a new job doing sales and administration at an owner operated flooring company in Pukekohe when her son, Ethan, was three months old. ‘I started to get a bit of a vibe at the interview because the owner’s wife, who interviewed me, asked several questions about my family life. Things like, “are you planning on having more kids?” “Who will care for your child when he’s sick?”‘ recounts Mrs Irwin.
‘But it was on my first day, when I told her I needed to express milk at work for my baby that the owner’s wife became very negative. Initially, she was reluctant to allow me to do it at all. But when I told her it was my legal right, she said I had to pump in the lunch room, which was not suitable as male staff members would come in. I was told my breast milk had to be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator so no one could see it, and that my pump equipment had to be kept out of sight.
‘She asked me at least five times when I was going to stop breastfeeding. It got to the point that I was so uncomfortable that I had to leave.’
How workplaces can benefit
Ms McKay says Briar’s employer is ignorant of the advantages many businesses find when they have a positive approach to breastfeeding in the workplace.
‘Employer respondents overwhelmingly said they find providing adequate breastfeeding facilities to have a positive influence. 67 per cent of employers said they saw a reduction in staff turnover. The same percentage of respondents said they found it had a positive impact on their company’s public image and 69 per cent reported it helped improve staff morale.’
Breastfeeding – some key facts
- Breastfeeding helps lay the foundation of a healthy life for a baby and it’s good for the health and wellbeing of breastfeeding women too.
- Breast milk is all a baby needs to eat and drink for about the first six months of their life. For some women breastfeeding can be a struggle, especially if they do not have good support systems in place.
- Research highlights that a significant barrier to breastfeeding is women not feeling supported by their family, whanau, friends, and wider community, to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding benefits for baby:
- Decreases the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI)
- Helps reduce the risk of obesity and may help reduce the risk of diabetes in later life.
- Breastfeeding and breast milk helps protect babies from chest infections, meningitis, ear infections and urine infections.
Breastfeeding benefits for women:
- May reduce women’s risk of ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and hip fracture later in life.
- Reduces women’s risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer.
- Helps women recover from birth.
The survey data was undertaken by Women’s Health Action as part of World Breastfeeding Week.
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