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Employers can do more to encourage breastfeeding at work

Posted on the 16th August 2017

It has been over 12 months since Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust introduced guidelines that support staff who breastfeed their babies to continue to do so once they return to work.

The guidelines—part of the Trust’s Breastfeeding Policy—ensures managers are supported to make staff aware during antennal conversations that if they’re thinking of returning to work and breastfeeding, then there is support and help available. The Trust’s Infant Feeding Team is also encouraging local employers to replicate the policy.

Gemma Barclay is a Personal Assistant with the Trust and is currently based at Sceptre Point. She has found juggling work, looking after her baby daughter and expressing milk easy, and explains how she has managed this when she returned to work last year.

“When I returned to work last year I was based at HMP Wymott. I would feed my daughter before dropping her off at nursey and heading to work, and would leave a bottle of expressed milk in a bottle with nursery staff. This would be placed in the fridge and given to my daughter throughout the day,” she said.

During her workday, Gemma would also express milk at lunch time. “I kept a bottle inside a small insulated sandwich bag and I had a small case for my breast pump which was easily stored away in my desk drawer. The bags were not conspicuous and after lunch I would use one of the clinical rooms, something that was agreed with my manager and I would put a do not disturb sign on the door,” she said, adding that the milk would be stored in a fridge in the opaque sandwich bag.

“This wouldn’t take long and, as this would be tagged on to the end of my lunch break, caused minimal disruption to my day. I also used to express once more towards the end of the day if required following the same steps above. I usually filled a bottle in a day, which was enough for my daughter’s needs, so I was happy that she had enough milk at nursery in the day and would get the rest in the morning and in the evening when we were at home,” she said.

Gemma would then collect her daughter after work, transporting the milk she had expressed during the day in the insulated bag to keep it cool, before storing in the fridge at home for nursery the next day. “I sterilised the pump and bottle for use the day after. My daughter was fed once more when we got home and also before bed,” she added.

12 months on, Gemma’s daughter is now two and is still breastfed. “When she turned one, I started to slowly dilute my expressed milk with whole milk to get her used to the change. This also helped my supply to adjust with minimal discomfort as the change was gradual. I now nurse her in the morning before we leave for work and nursery, and also when we get home and before bed. Breastfeeding while juggling work and other responsibilities is easy and I encourage other mothers to follow suit,” said Gemma.

Exclusively breastfeeding babies is recommended for around the first six months of a baby’s life, after which it is encouraged with solid food. Aside from certain legal obligations, supporting breastfeeding can benefit employers by lowering recruitment and training costs, attract potential employees and reduce absence due to child sickness as breastfed babies are generally healthier.

Katie Wharton, Infant Feeding Coordinator at Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The health benefits of breastmilk are vast. It’s important that employers support their staff to be able to continue breastfeeding or giving breastmilk for the maximum amount of time after birth. As a result, we’ve developed a policy to ensure managers are supported to make staff aware during antenatal conversations that if they’re thinking of returning to work and breastfeeding, then we have a policy in place to help and support them to do so. This is a fantastic piece of work which other employers in Lancashire could replicate.”

The Department of Health recommends that babies are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their life with continuation of breastfeeding breastmilk as part of the infant’s diet throughout the first one to two years and beyond.

Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and diseases this in itself supports staff to remain in work by reducing the amount of time off to look after poorly children, provides health benefits for mothers too and can build a strong physical and emotional bond between mother and baby promoting both their emotional and physical wellbeing.

If you would like more information about breastfeeding, contact the Infant Feeding Team on infant.feeding@lancashirecare.nhs.uk.