Let's try and give this all a bit of perspective.
The Mail suggests that breastfeeding mums need to express their milk several times a day and it can take up to 40 minutes. Before everyone gets exercised that every workplace will be full of screaming babies and women with their boobs out round every corner, let's just think a bit.
All that's being asked for is that mothers are given the opportunity to express their milk so that their babies can continue to receive the proven benefits of human milk after they return to employment. A simple private area, or a cool box or fridge to store the milk is all that's required. The younger the baby, the more often the mum will need to express, but with a half decent pump, the whole process shouldn't take longer than 20 minutes tops and in an eight hour working day would mean a couple of sessions.
Most women who breastfeed will choose to express their milk with a pump at work. The Fail doesn't seem to understand the difference between doing that and actually feeding their baby - although is it actually that big a deal if the baby is brought to the mum at lunchtime, say, to feed directly? Why does this need to be such a drama?
At the moment, what tends to happen is that women are forced to express in the toilet in their lunch hour with pump in one hand and sandwich in the other. In my experience, managers are more likely to tolerate employees nipping out for smoke breaks several times a day than a request for a break to express milk.
So, employers might have to take a relatively small hit on that, but surely for a good employee, that sort of flexibility is worth paying. And as for the cost of a fridge, you can get little ones for next to nothing from Tesco. All the coverage tends to look at the costs to employers with absolutely no focus on the benefits, which are considerable:
- Women may return to work earlier if they know they are going to be able to combine breastfeeding and working without hassle, thus saving the employer the cost of hiring someone else to do their job.
- Their babies are likely to be healthier. Part of the reason human milk is so good is that if the mother and baby are exposed to the same germs, then antibodies appear in the milk which either completely stop the baby from getting it or ensure that they get it less severely. This is all good because it means that a woman who's breastfeeding is less likely to have to take time off to look after a sick baby, or if they do it will be for less time. Another win for the employer. In fact, the more kids who are breastfed, the better it will be for all employers who have parents in their workforce as fathers will take less time off to look after sick babies too.
- I've seen far too many occasions when talented women have been lost to the workforce because their employers will not make a few small adjustments to make it possible for them to combine their working and family responsibilities. Surely that hurts businesses, to lose that experience?
While I may love Ann Widdecombe on Strictly Come Dancing, she rminded me why I'd loathed her so much as a Conservative MP on Andrew Marr this morning. She was expressing (see what I did there) the opinion that she was seeing too much state intervention in what the Coalition was doing. I think it's perfectly fine to set out parameters of what is acceptable behaviour - and it is fundamentally unfair for employers to set so many barriers for their female employees.
I can't understand why employers think it's ok to spend more money than they need to on expensive, prestigious cars for their sales forces but baulk at spending a little bit to make the work life balance easier to manage for those with family responsibilities. Skewed priorities or what?