A UK survey has found more than half of breastfeeding mums are forced to express in unsuitable places.
‘I had a return to work meeting with my manager who “gently suggested” that I would need to stop breastfeeding before returning to work as there would be no facility for me to continue to do so in the long term,’ says Gina*, a mother of one working in the construction industry, ‘the inability to express at work definitely had an impact on my decision to completely stop’.
Gina is one of many, many women who returned to work after having a baby only to find her workplace did not adequately support breastfeeding mothers. Made to express in the managing director’s private office during her ‘Keep In Touch’ days – in a room that had no lock – her return to work resulted in a complete change to the feeding routine of her 9-month-old baby, before she was forced to stop altogether due to the lack of facilities.
Her experience is shared by more than half of breastfeeding mothers, according to a new survey by law firm Slater and Gordon. Polling 2,000 women who have had a baby within the last five years, a third of breastfeeding mums have had to use a toilet when they express at work, with more citing unsuitable facilities available. The result? A third have experienced problems expressing, from supply issues to infections and anxiety.
‘The first time I left my son with his dad to go to a meeting, I was panicking the whole time about having to express in the toilet and hoping my boobs weren’t going to leak,’ says Louise Deverell-Smith, mother of three, ‘I tried not to express too much after that. I did get mastitis as few times.’
Angela*, mother of three working in the financial services industry, was forced to use the basement of her workplace to express when she returned to her work. While she was allocated a meeting room at first – also without a lock, and with a glass panel door – it was then offered to external auditors to use. ‘I was told to ask them to let me have access to the room every lunchtime. The first time I asked them, they obviously hadn't been told and made a big fuss about having to take their belongings,’ she said, ‘After lunch they came and had a discussion about it with my manager in front of my whole team and it was a really awkward situation that made me not want to ask again.’
Forced to use the women’s shower room in the basement of her building, she often had to skip lunch after taking the time to express. ‘I really felt like it was a huge inconvenience to them, when in reality I wasn't asking for much,’ she continued.
According to Emma Pickett, a lactation consultant and chair of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the problem isn’t just that employers aren’t supportive enough, it’s also that UK law doesn’t provide adequate guidance for employers to understand how necessary breastfeeding spaces are.
‘Employers don’t always understand that if a mum can’t express milk she can end up being in pain, her milk supply will reduce and she may even become seriously ill with mastitis or an abscess,’ Emma told Grazia, ‘Our law treats expressing breaks as though they are options you may wish to “request”. There is no requirement for mums to have breaks to pump or spaces to do so. But for the mothers living through this, they are essential.’
While UK employment law currently states breastfeeding staff should be given a place to rest, it doesn’t outline requirements for paid breaks or providing a suitable space to express.
‘If UK law gave better guidance, it would make things easier for both employers and parents,’ Emma continued, ‘How can it be right that we have Shared Parental Leave and mums might be going back to work as early as two or four weeks after babies being born, but they have no right to express milk at work?’
Paula Chan, law specialist at Slater and Gordon, has too urged the government to take note of the poll results. ‘This research is concerning – no mother should feel forced to express milk for her child in a toilet,’ she said, ‘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.’
Of course, whether the UK government will assess current legislation remains to be seen. With Brexit taking precedence and MP’s leaving their parties left, right and centre, it’s hard to believe this news will cross their radar. And as seems to be the case since the EU referendum, women will continue to be cast aside by the government meant to protect them.
*names have been changed
Gallery! 20 mums tell us a time they were mum-shamed because it's happening to us all
“While at the paediatrician, my 6-year-old son who is autistic decided to lay down on the floor as he often does. He wasn’t in anybody’s way and, as I’m well aware, it’s better to just leave him there rather than try to get him up. Another mother in the waiting room, not knowing he’s autistic, took it upon herself to angrily say to me, “Can’t you see that all he’s trying to do is get your attention? You obviously don’t pay him enough of it!”
1. “You’re not paying your child enough attention”
Saba, 33, mother of 2
“A neighbour dropped in unannounced just as I was about to feed the baby. In a moment of mummy-madness, I grabbed the nearest bib to me which was the one I used for her earlier feed. There was a bit of residual breakfast on it. ‘You should really clean those,’ my neighbour said with a smile. ‘I clean my child and I clean her bibs,’ I found myself explaining while rushing around trying to find a clean bib. I know it shouldn’t, but it gets to me sometimes.”
2. “You should really clean those”
Stella, 32, mother of 1
“I was told that it didn’t look like I had enough breast milk by someone who was not a professional, did not somehow check my boobs for milk supply, and mainly, whose opinion I did not ask for. Her reasoning was that she thought my child could do with a bit more ‘meat on her bones,’ even though the paediatrician said the baby was at a great weight for her age. I, of course, continued solely with breast milk and my girl is now two years old and absolutely fine. My question is, how does one look like they don’t have enough breast milk? Anyone?”
3) You don’t have enough breast milk. Give her formula
Graziella, 29, mother of 1
“I’m rather fond of my child being comfortable and I’ve noticed she’s way more comfortable in tracksuits than dresses and so that’s how I tend to dress her. People have commented on more than one occasion that she looks like a boy, and it hasn’t bothered me until they start making suggestions, for example, I should put her in a dress or put a ribbon on her head. My baby is bald. I’m not putting a ribbon on her bald head. She’ll look like a potato with a ribbon on it, but that’s better than ‘looking like a boy’ to some people, I guess.”
4. “Put a dress on her – she looks like a boy”
Elena, 35, mother of 1
“I’ve been mum-shamed so many times. Here’s a short list: You shouldn't let your child play video games too long they will not be social; you should keep them on a schedule or they will never be regular; don't rock or nurse them to sleep, put them down awake or they will never go to sleep on their own (all my kids learnt to sleep just fine); they have to have a balanced dinner every night (yeah, right). The way these things have been said to me have been like I’ve committed a crime. ‘I can't believe you’re putting him down like that!’ The moment I heard that was the moment I promised myself that I would never tell anyone how to parent unless they asked for my opinion.”
5. “He’ll never learn to sleep on his own if you nurse him to sleep”
Michelle, 49, mother of 3
“When my baby was a few weeks old, I would cut her tiny, paper-thin nails every couple of days. Like all new mothers, I was afraid of cutting them too short, but I never left them to their own devices. Even so, she would still find a way to scratch herself sometimes and I would feel incredibly guilty for perhaps leaving a little corner on one of her nails unclipped. A friend, I’m guessing as a kind gesture, offered to cut my baby’s nails for me because clearly, I am scared and can’t do a good job of it on my own. Comments like these can make you feel kind of useless unless you consciously decide to block them out somehow, but it’s not easy.”
6. “Your baby’s nails are too long – here, let me do it”
Katharine, 36, mother of 1
“I was pregnant with my first. I put on around 50 pounds. Sure, that’s a lot of weight to put on in a few months, but, you know, there was a baby in there too. Did I need to be shamed for it? I don’t think so. ‘Wow, you’ve put on a lot of weight,’ ‘For the life of me, I didn’t recognise you,’ and my personal favourite, ‘Why, honey? Why did you do that to yourself? Weren’t you careful?’ Way to make a girl feel special! I lost it in nine months but that’s not the point.”
7. “Wow, you’ve put on a lot of weight”
Nounouka, 37, mother of 2
“A friend and I went for a walk and I had the baby in the buggy when she started crying unexpectedly, clearly bothered by something. I started unstrapping her to pick her up when my friend said, ‘don’t pick her up; you’ll spoil her. Just let her cry it out.’ I obviously went ahead and picked the baby up anyway and when I did so, my friend shook her head disapprovingly, clearly disappointed in me. ‘You don’t know anything yet,’ she said. ‘You’ll see.’ I then felt that I had to explain to her that I know my child and if she’s crying in the buggy then something’s wrong. This didn’t seem to appease my walking companion. I was still doing parenting wrong, apparently.”
8. “Don’t pick her up – you’ll spoil her”
Laurie, 38, mother of 1
“My baby is eight months old and is not solving crossword puzzles. I’m not worried. My husband is not worried. Our paediatrician is not worried. One of our friends, however, is. Apparently, my child is not speaking, taking steps, or eating on her own because I am not – and I quote – ‘spending enough time with her’ because I work full-time. I have innate mum-guilt as it is and I really wish people would stop passing off their mum-shaming under the guise of concern. The funny thing is that if I Google a parenting concern, there is always something that is in line with my thinking and then another article contradicting that entirely saying I’m doing it all hideously wrong.”
9. “Your kid seems a little slow”
Christina, 40, mother of 1
“When my daughter was two, someone had bought her a cute little pink outfit and I would put her in it every Sunday to go to church. The truth is, at the time, we didn’t have much money and she didn’t have a change of Sunday best clothing but, in any event, this outfit was so darn cute and she loved wearing it. She felt like a little princess. One fellow churchgoer came up to me one day and said, ‘Why does she always wear that outfit? Doesn’t she have any other clothes?’ I don’t see the point in such remarks."
10. “Why is your toddler always wearing the same outfit?”
Irene, 55, mother of 3
“Although I’m generally slim, my baby belly is still there eight months after giving birth. This is something that would have bothered me pre-baby but now I’m actually proud of my little pooch. This is where my gorgeous baby lived for nine whole months! Some people, though, are really concerned as to why my belly is not flat yet. I try to console them but it’s not easy.”
11. “It’s been 8 months; how come your belly hasn’t gone down yet?”
Nina, 34, mother of 1
“No, actually, I nearly died, but thanks for asking. Not that there is anything wrong with the mothers who choose voluntary caesarean sections but my birth plan, up till the last minute, included a natural birth. Unfortunately, this was not to be because there were serious complications during labour and both mine and the baby’s lives were in danger so, although not my first choice, I’m so grateful that a caesarean section was an option. I’m not grateful, however, that I have to keep explaining myself to some people.”
12. “Oh, C-Sec was it? Too-posh-to-push, are we?”
Frankie, 37, mother of 1
“For my first child, I did. I tried really hard to breastfeed him. After the fourth round of mastitis, I gave up. I understand that there are women who have gone through worse and have kept with it and kudos to them but I just couldn’t do anything else. I’m so glad I decided to stop though, as that’s when I feel that I started becoming a fully functioning mother to my child and finally started to enjoy motherhood. I still had guilt, of course, but it was the best thing for us. In fact, with my second child, I didn’t even try to breastfeed, and saved us all the hassle. The amount of slack I’ve received for this is unfathomable. Even years later, people still won’t seem to let it go.”
13. “You should have tried harder to breastfeed”
Kris, 48, mother of 2
“I had post-partum depression with my third child and was actually advised not to breastfeed because I could pass on the negative hormones and end up having a depressed child. You’d think that I would have just ignored this advice and kept on, but actually, a post-partum, depressed and hormonal woman is not really of the soundest of minds and I, regretfully, listened to that advice because I thought I was doing the best for my baby. My OB/GYN later scolded me for listening to such advice but the damage was done. Mummy shaming is dangerous. My advice to new mothers is to do what is right for them and their baby and only seek opinions from their OB/GYN and paediatrician, and to people with opinions – keep it to yourself.”
14. “You’re making your baby depressed”
Renee, 45, mother of 3
“In my 11 short months as a mother, I have heard some corkers. Someone saw from one of my Instagram pics that my baby was asleep on my bed and decided to warn me on the dangers of having the baby in my bed, lest of all that she would be 15 and still sleeping with me (I replied that I would love that). My favourite type of mummy-shamers are the ones that try to pass it off as a compliment. ‘You seem really forward-thinking in all other aspects, so why would you possibly give your child a dummy?’ I was actually stumped for words on that one and ended up just shrugging. What’s the point in explaining myself?”
15. “Why would you possibly give your child a dummy?”
Trina, 35, mother of 1
“For some reason I keep getting asked when I’m going to get my hair done. My roots have grown out but I’d rather use up any spare time catching up on sleep than sitting in a hairdresser’s chair. I’ve also been told not to give in to the urge to let myself go. Or that I should more make time for my husband and arrange a date night. Or that we should get out more. Thankfully, I have a very understanding partner and we are on the same page about all of it. When we do finally get some time alone together after the kids are asleep, we’d rather just order takeout and binge Netflix in our pyjamas.”
16. “You’ve let yourself go”
Alexis, 34, mother of 2
“People around me seem to be convinced that I have a problem telling the temperature. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that my boy is either overdressed or underdressed, especially by my mother-in-law. It has got to the point that if I turn my back for a second, he’s either got an extra blanket on him, or has had an item of clothing removed. I’ve also been told by someone that I breastfed too long, and by someone else that I breastfed too little. I just can’t seem to get it right it seems. Bad mummy.”
17. “The baby is too cold/The baby is too warm”
Maria, 26, mother of 1
“When my daughter was born she was put in a special care unit for a while due to an issue with her larynx. I admit this freaked me out and perhaps made me a little panicky about certain things but within reason. For the first few months of her life, I wouldn’t let people kiss the baby and was branded a hypochondriac and over-protective. These monikers seem to have stuck even two years later. For instance, I don’t like giving my daughter a lot of sugar often and recently someone offered her some cake and I politely declined, so she turned to my child and said, ‘your mummy is too strict with you.’”
18. “You’re too over-protective”
Bea, 34, mother of 1
“Apparently, I’m supposed to go around making a racket when my child is asleep so that she doesn’t get used to only sleeping in a quiet environment. I must admit, at first, I tried it this way and she kept waking up, so now I make sure the house is quiet while she’s asleep. ‘My child can sleep through a nuclear bomb,’ I’m often told. Well, mine wakes up at the slightest creek in the floorboards. What am I supposed to do; throw the whole baby away?”
19. “You shouldn’t be quiet when she’s sleeping”
Danielle, 26, mother of 1
“I can usually ignore all the other bits of nonsense that I’ve heard over the years but this one for me takes the biscuit. We decided not to christen our children as we’re not really religious but people in our circle, both friends and relatives, are constantly making inappropriate comments about it. ‘They won’t get into heaven,’ ‘Do it for the grandparents, make them happy,’ ‘What if they want to get married in a church when they’re older? They won’t be able to as non-members!’ The worst thing I’ve heard is that something bad could happen if we don’t christen them, and I can’t help feeling a little superstitious about it. Whenever anything unpleasant happens, from a runny nose to a sprained ankle, I’m sure that everyone thinks it’s my fault for not baptising them!”
20. “If you don’t christen her, something bad could happen”
Cleo, 37, mother of 3
This article originally appeared on our sister site Grazia
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