Employers encouraged to be “breastfeeding-friendly”

1 December 2010

Employers should help new mothers return to work by providing them with breastfeeding facilities and breaks, or by allowing them to bring their babies to work, the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley said at the weekend. He urged firms to set up areas where women can breastfeed and to supply dedicated fridges to store expressed milk. The idea comes shortly after the European Parliament voted to grant women two one-hour breastfeeding breaks at work each day. His comments have sparked debate over the last few days.

Economist Ruth Lea, former head of the policy unit at the Institute of Directors warned that women could ultimately be the ones to suffer as extra demands on employers will make them less likely to take on women employees. “Inevitably this will lead to extra costs on business and will make it harder for them when they are expected to be creating new jobs. If you are an employer looking for a new recruit and you have a young man and a young woman, what would you do?”

However, the National Childbirth Trust’s Rosemary Dodd said “If it means a woman is relaxed and confident about going back to work, then that’s a good thing for employers. Evidence suggests such measures promote loyalty.”

The Government’s public health White Paper “Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our strategy for public health in England” published yesterday stopped short of ordering employers to take such steps. It states that the Department of Health will work in partnerships with employers to encourage breastfeeding friendly policies. A pilot scheme will test whether the measures help improve breastfeeding rates.

Whatever your view on the proposals, there are clearly issues about their practicality. For example, unless an employer provides a crèche, what are mothers supposed to do with their babies once they have finished a breastfeeding break? And what is the point of two such breaks a day, when most babies need several?

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