A third of breastfeeding mothers have been forced to use a toilet when they express milk after returning to work, according to a new study.
A survey of 2,000 women who had a baby within the last five years found that more than half said they have had to express in an unsuitable place such as the staff room, their car or their desk, and highlighted a lack of workplace support after having a baby.
As a result, almost a third said they have experienced problems while trying to express, including infections, anxiety and issues with their supply.
What’s more, these difficulties resulted in 30 per cent of mothers stopping breastfeeding earlier than they would have liked.
One 36-year-old pharmaceutical worker, who decided to remain anonymous because she feared losing her job, said her employer had not provide adequate facilities to express milk while at work.
“At head office there isn’t a specific room to use, so I have to try and find an empty office or conference room, which don’t have locks or any privacy. I’ve had to use the toilets on many occasions,” the mother-of-one said.
“Sometimes I’ve just gone back to the car park and expressed in my car.
“It’s not acceptable but I don’t really have a choice.”
The anonymous worker also said there were no storage facilities at work where she could keep her expressed milk, so it had to be thrown away – something she said was “heart-breaking”.
“There was a time when I first started with the company and I could feel myself lactating,” she explained.
“I hadn’t had the chance to express before the meeting had started and ended up leaking all over my shirt. I had to spend the rest of the meeting trying to cover the wet stains with my blazer.
“I didn’t feel I was able to leave and just sat there. It was so embarrassing.”
Employment law currently states that breastfeeding staff should be given a place to rest.
"You should be able to express milk at your workplace if you wish," says the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
"You can request that your employer provides you with a suitable private space where you can do this.
"Guidelines recommend that you have access to a private, clean and comfortable room with a lockable door - not a toilet - in which to express."
However, there is no requirement for workers to have paid breaks to express milk or feed their baby.
The survey, by the law firm Slater and Gordon, found that half of breastfeeding mothers said their bosses did not know what to do when it comes to expressing milk, had no facilities or felt embarrassed by the conversation.
One of the firm’s employment law specialists, Paula Chan said: “This research is concerning- no mother should feel forced to express milk for her child in a toilet.
“People would be horrified at the thought of food being prepared in such unhygienic conditions so it’s unacceptable that we are in a situation where that is considered to be an option when preparing milk for a baby."
You can find more information on breastfeeding including advise on expressing and returning to work here.
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