One in three breastfeeding mums has been forced to use the toilet at work to express milk, according to new research.
In the survey of 2,000 women who have breastfed in the past five years, more than half have had to pump in an unsuitable place – including the staff room, their car or at 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 issues with their supply, infections and anxiety. These difficulties resulted in 30% of mums stopping earlier than they would have liked.
“At my 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,” said one 36-year-old pharmaceutical worker, who remained anonymous because she feared losing her job.
“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.”
Employment law states that breastfeeding staff should have a place to rest, but there is no requirement for workers to have paid breaks to express milk or feed their baby.
Half of breastfeeding mothers said their bosses didn’t know what to do in the situation, had no facilities, or felt embarrassed by the conversation, according to the survey by law firm Slater and Gordon.
The anonymous mum also said there was no storage facilities for her expressed milk, so it had to be thrown away – something she said was “heartbreaking”. “There was a time when I first started with the company and I could feel myself lactating,” she added. “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.”
Commenting on the study, employment law specialist, 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.”
For support and advice on continuing to breastfeed at work, visit Maternity Action’s website.