Breastfeeding at Work – Yes or No?


Picture by Christy Scherrer

Last week Health Secretary Andrew Lansley urged companies to provide breastfeeding facilities for new mothers.

Companies will be urged to allow nursing mothers to be able to take flexible breaks, provide fridges to keep expressed milk in and allow women to go home during the working day to feed their babies.

The proposals have been met with considerable criticism, from people who believe nursing mothers should be at home looking after their babies full time, to those who see the move as likely to cause even more discrimination against women in the work place.

Critics of giving new mothers extra protection in the workplace often use words such as “lifestyle choice” and talk about the “unfairness” of allowing working mothers more flexibility than other members of the workforce.

It seems an increasingly more accepted view that reproduction is a choice, and if a woman decides to make that choice she should pay for it accordingly.

This seems short-sighted.

True, women have more control over their reproductive systems than they have ever had before, but it is still in the interest of society that women have babies.  It is also in the interest of society that well-educated, successful and professional women can return to work.

Given that women are advised to breastfeed for 6 months, and they are entitled to only £100 a week after the first six weeks of maternity leave, it may simply not be feasible for a working mother to remain at home until she weans her child.

And given that it seems fairly well accepted that breastfeeding is good for babies, it makes sense to allow nursing mothers more flexibility.

Camilla Cavendish, of The Times writes:

“If you ask most mothers, you’ll find that the reason that we stop breastfeeding is not a lack of private rooms. It’s the whole painful fandango. It’s wanting not to be milk-soaked and bovine in front of the boss, adjusting breast pads and ruining shirts.”

If this really is the reason many women stop breastfeeding, to avoid the shame of lactating in front of your boss, what does it say about how breastfeeding is perceived in our society?

The issue of breastfeeding shows how far women, and particularly mothers, are from achieving equality in the work place.

Increasingly it seems that women are only equal to men if they act like men, and men certainly do not breastfeed.

Tell me what you think:


About Rachel Conner

Rachel Conner is currently a postgraduate newspaper journalism student at Cardiff University. She graduated in 2010 from the University of Durham with an LLB. View all posts by Rachel Conner

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