When the Industrial Revolution began, women started to go out to work in large numbers and breastfeeding began to decline, spurring the development of alternative ways of feeding babies. Yet, 200 years on, the question of how to combine breastfeeding and work still remains for women around the globe.
In the UK in 2015, MPs themselves are struggling to secure the right to breastfeed their babies in the chamber of the Houses of Parliament itself!
Once again, the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding is clear that there are proven ways to make this work. It calls on governments to produce “imaginative legislation” to protect the breastfeeding rights of working women.
In particular, it recommends that legislation be compatible with the International Labor Organisation’s standards, which state that there should be an entitlement to:
- health protection, job protection and non-discrimination for pregnant and breastfeeding workers
- at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave
- one or more paid breastfeeding breaks or daily reduction of hours of work to breastfeed
as well as recommending that space be provided nearby for working mothers to breastfeed or express their milk.
There is also a recognition of the extra challenges faced by women who work in the “informal economy”, such as those in casual or freelance work, who don’t always have the same protections as other women.
Each year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action produces a snapshot of the state of maternity protection around the world, which makes for some interesting comparisons.
Indicator 4 of the World Breastfeeding Trends initiative (WBTi) looks in much more detail at the laws and practices in each country to score them on the maternity protection they offer. Fathers are recognised too, because of their important role in nurturing babies and supporting breastfeeding, so the length of paternity leave is also included in the score.
How do you think the UK compares to other countries in protecting breastfeeding mothers at work? What was your experience of returning to work while breastfeeding? What would have made it easier?