Priya, a new mother returned to work after three months of her maternity leave and she decided to breastfeed her child by nursing her in the morning and expressing milk before leaving for work. There was no facility or a private place at work where she could express and store her milk. Her milk supply gradually reduced and she could not continue nursing her child for the duration she desired.
Another mother, who was determined to nurse her child for a year used to express in the restroom as there was no separate lactation room. She had to bear unpleasant odour, sometimes hold her breathe and express milk in an unhygienic environment.
These are two of the many examples where women feel inadequate when they become mothers. And it’s high time that companies invest in becoming a breastfeeding friendly workplace. The investments are minimal and not worthy of any debate.
ProEves undertook a study by reaching out to working mothers to understand their breastfeeding journey after returning to work. The survey aimed to understand the support mechanisms that helped them continue breastfeeding, challenges faced and enablers that could ease this journey. A whopping 92% continued their breastfeeding journey even after returning to work despite challenges which means that women are keen on continuing to breastfeed their little ones even after joining work.
The pertinent question is how moms can continue their breastfeeding once they return to work. The World Health Organization recommends that a newborn should be exclusively breastfed for a period of six months and the weaning process can continue up to two years. With women returning to work in three months in many organizations and workplaces not equipped with facilities to support breastfeeding, it is difficult for returning moms to be able to continue to breastfeed their child.
The Study pointed out that apart from a supportive family (cited by 66% of respondents), the top three enablers that supported the breastfeeding journey after returning to work are:
- Flexible work arrangements (53%) - Flexibility helps them to plan and balance their childcare and work requirements and take intermittent breaks to be able to express milk and nurse their child.
- Lactation room (43%) - Designated lactation room in the office makes it easier for moms to continue their breastfeeding journey without having to scout for private spaces.
- Supportive employer (38%) - Employers who understand and prioritise breastfeeding needs of nursing moms by allowing them breaks between works, providing dedicated space and creating a culture of inclusion amongst employees.
Companies which have an onsite childcare support like Hindustan Unilever Limited, IBM, HCL etc, women can go to the day-care centre and nurse their child. Nearly a majority (47%) felt that daycare support (onsite/ nearsite) could have enhanced the journey. However most companies do not have an onsite/ near site daycare and even where there are, not all women employees bring their infants along as they may have alternate childcare arrangements at home. Hence, it is important for companies to provide basic facilities where mothers can express milk without stress.
An alarming statistic is that 80% of the respondents mentioned that there was no formal communication/ awareness by the company on available options and arrangements for supporting breastfeeding. Most of the information was passed informally or when they asked for it.
How can organizations provide structured support to enable breastfeeding?
The requirements of supporting breastfeeding are minimal and do not require any substantial investment. Many working women delay their return or do not return as they want to continue to breastfeed. By providing basic facilities and upfront communication of the same, companies can arrest this leaking pipeline. Below are some of the solutions that companies can adopt to make workplaces friendly to returning moms and support them to continue their breastfeeding journey.
- Privacy for expressing milk – A small room designated as lactation room which breastfeeding employees can use to express milk. In case there is no permanent room that can be allocated, there are various flexible spaces such as conference rooms, medical rooms which can be blocked for few hours in the day or an area that can be partitioned with a slider when required can be arranged.
- Basic amenities – Basic amenities like an electrical outer to operate the breast pump, a comfortable chair and a small table can be provided. Also a mini refrigerator to help in storing the expressed milk is very helpful.
- Flexible breaks - Provide breaks to women every 3-4 hours for around 15-20 minutes to express milk. The recent amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act passed by the Rajya Sabha also talks about allowing women four breaks in a day to visit the crèche and nurse the child.
- Communication - It is important to proactively communicate and educate women and their line managers with respect to the support that the company provides. Many returning mothers may hesitate to share their need with respect to breastfeeding. This may result in women taking the decision of not returning back to work or delaying their return to be able to nurse their baby. Line managers and HR should discuss the support that the employee may require before she goes on maternity leave and also during mid maternity contact.
The Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill 2016 introduces a provision which requires every organization to intimate the woman at the time of her appointment of the maternity benefits available to her, in writing and electronically.
Apart from these tangible support mechanisms mentioned above, it is also important to focus on the softer aspects like providing professional support and sensitising line managers.
- Providing peer support - Women employees who have previously continued their breastfeeding journey can be encouraged to act as ambassadors with respect to how the company offers support to nursing moms. Returning mothers find it easier to connect with colleagues who have continued to breastfeed their children after returning to work and get handy tips.
- Sensitising line managers – Line managers are an integral game changer for any returning mother. By providing information and sensitising line managers to the support that the company provides to returning mothers helps in creating a consistent experience for new moms.
From breastfeeding to weaning there is a wealth of information that moms have access to – be it traditional wisdom, new age parenting tips or medical advice. There are dedicated portals, pre-natal classes, lactation consultants, smart apps and various breastfeeding support groups that moms can rely on, not to mention well-meaning family members. While these resources and groups encourage and support moms to breastfeed, having breastfeeding friendly workplaces is the missing link to enable moms in ramping back.
We would like to thank The New Moms Club, a Credihealth Initiative, Moms Working Outside the House India and Happy Moms Raise Happy Kids Facebook Groups for their support in fielding the survey.