Returning to work after having had a baby is always going to be challenging emotionally and physically. But with World Breastfeeding Week taking place this month, it is an opportune moment for employers to revisit the health and wellbeing support they give to new mothers coming back into workplace.
Employee health and wellbeing – new mothers need all the employer help they can get
This month, from 1-7 August, is World Breastfeeding Week, run by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. The global health and wellbeing event is designed to promote the benefits of breastfeeding and to, as its website puts it, “empower parents, enable breastfeeding”.
You might have thought that, in this day and age, breastfeeding is a health and wellbeing argument that has by and large been won. Yet the Dutch airline KLM, quite rightly, faced a storm of online protest in July after it emerged women who breastfeed their babies on its flights could be asked to cover up to avoid “offending” other passengers.
Unsuitable working conditions
Similarly, research earlier this year by law firm Slater and Gordon concluded one in three breastfeeding mothers had reportedly been forced to use a toilet when they expressed milk after they returned to work.
And more than half said they have had to express in an unsuitable place, including the staff room, their car or even at their desk, and highlighted a lack of workplace support after having a baby.
Clearly, then, there is a still a job to be done in this area. For employers, supporting new mothers back into work can be an important health and safety issue, and something that needs to be properly risk assessed, as theHealth and Safety Executive makes clear.
But it is also an area where an employer can send out an important, and potentially positive, wider health and wellbeing message.
Flexibility is the key word here. Our workplaces and working practices are, by and large, becoming increasingly flexible. Indeed, a new Flexible Working Bill is working its way through Parliament designed to ensure all jobs be advertised as flexible from day one of employment.
Retaining valuable female employees
For returning mothers the “suite” of support you can offer as an employer, everything from flexible working through to lighter (or just adjusted) duties, through to creche or expressing facilities, through to simply your whole approach to health and wellbeing support can make a real difference.
In fact, as Dr Lucy Wright, Optima Health Chief Medical Officer, emphasises, the extent to which as an employer you support both mums-to be and new-mums within your organisation can be a critical part of retaining valuable female employees and encouraging them to stay and progress through your organisation.
“For many women, starting a family is a time to re-evaluate what they want from life, especially what they want in terms of working life and career. If as an employer you can therefore send out a strong signal that you are ‘female friendly’ this can be an important part of positioning yourself as an attractive ‘employer of choice’ to female employees at all levels.
“If this can be made into a positive women’s health ‘arc’ – so offering whole life women’s health support and advice from pregnancy through to parenting through to later-life health and wellbeing issues such as the menopause – that can be a compelling point of difference and retention and recruitment tool.
“Proactively enabling new mums to feel welcomed rather than isolated in the workplace is not just the right thing to do morally, it is also good business sense,” she adds.