Breastfeeding women at work
How to help secure safety, privacy, dignity and equity for women who are breastfeeding on return to work from maternity leave.
The NEU’s survey of women’s experience of pregnancy, maternity and returning to work has exposed the shocking treatment of breastfeeding mothers working in education.
Women’s rights – to individual risk assessments, safe and fair working arrangements, more frequent rest breaks and a clean private space to rest, breastfeed or express milk – are frequently disregarded. Many breastfeeding teachers and support staff are subjected to humiliating and unlawful treatment at work.
Yet our survey shows it doesn’t have to be this way. We see evidence of fantastic practice – education leaders going way beyond their legal duties to accommodate, support and consequently retain breastfeeding women at work.
To highlight the experiences of breastfeeding women in the education sector and to call for action on their rights at work, the NEU is delighted to be working with Maternity Action.
Maternity Action is the UK’s maternity rights charity dedicated to promoting, protecting and enhancing the rights of all pregnant women, new mothers and their families to employment, social security and health care.
Our reasonable demands in this call to action are popular and winnable. The lives of new mothers returning to work in schools or colleges while breastfeeding can be transformed by small changes.
Let’s help retain teachers and support staff in education.
Let’s value breastfeeding women at work.
About our research
Between April and May 2022, 3,700 NEU women members participated in an online anonymous survey about their experiences in an education setting in the previous five years of being pregnant at work, taking maternity leave and returning to work.
This call to action is one of a series of reports on areas that working women raised in the survey as needing urgent attention.
Look out for all five of our reports, to be published on our Maternity pages under these themes:
- Being pregnant at work
- Pregnancy loss and termination
- Maternity leave and maternity pay
- Returning to work after maternity leave
- Breastfeeding women at work.
What our members are saying
” I had to sit in a cupboard”
” Women in education are torn between feeding their babies and returning to work”
” I was told off for taking too long”
” I got mastitis after parents’ evening”
We are told that ‘breast is best’, but law and practice need to modernise to support this principle. We are calling for improvements to rights at work, increased funding and
temporary adjustments to working arrangements – making the world of difference to breastfeeding women at work while not costing the earth.
Government – changes needed
- Publicise the rights of breastfeeding women at work – increase awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, the impact on breastfeeding women of not being supported at work, and the benefits of retaining experienced skilled women in education.
- Legislate for paid breastfeeding breaks – introduce an explicit statutory entitlement to paid time off to rest and to breastfeed or express breastmilk.
- Make flexible working the default for breastfeeding women at work – a day-1 right to work flexibly while breastfeeding.
- Make maternity leave affordable – increase state- funded maternity pay.
- Improve retention – raise awareness around the link between unacceptable working conditions and the attrition of qualified experienced professional women in education.
Employers – changes needed
- Adopt the NEU Breastfeeding women at work model policy.
- Carry out individual risk assessments for breastfeeding women at work – remove or reduce the risks.
- Provide suitable rest facilities – a clean, private space to rest, breastfeed or express breastmilk.
- Accommodate flexible adjustments – to working arrangements, location and hours.
- Offer breastfeeding breaks – paid time off to rest and to breastfeed or express.
What can reps do?
NEU reps are central to winning for breastfeeding women at work.
- Read the NEU resource pack – Breastfeeding women at work – and discuss it with your union colleagues, including your health and safety rep if you have one.
- Follow the Breastfeeding women at work reps checklist.
- Support breastfeeding women members in securing:
- an individual risk assessment.
- suitable facilities.
- safe and fair working arrangements.
- breastfeeding breaks.
- Download and display the Supporting breastfeeding women at work poster and give copies of the poster and the member checklist to women at work who are breastfeeding.
- Call a union meeting and include the NEU model policy – Breastfeeding women at work – on the agenda.
- Read our Breastfeeding women at work checklist for leaders – and give a copy to your head or principal.
- Push for adoption of the NEU model policy, through a workplace campaign if necessary.
- Include your membership group at every stage of the process; include women on maternity leave and breastfeeding women; keep members informed of the negotiations and encourage their input to approve changes so that everyone is fairly represented.
- Gauge how widely felt and deeply felt this issue is and contact your branch secretary and women’s organising forum rep to ask for advice and support if you need it.