Monday 24 July 2017

Are there any regulations to assist breastfeeding mothers in the workplace?

Support: Pamela Flood (centre) helps promote National Breastfeeding Week. There are regulations in place to
assist breastfeeding mothers in the workplace – useful to know if you're returning from maternity leave
Support: Pamela Flood (centre) helps promote National Breastfeeding Week. There are regulations in place to assist breastfeeding mothers in the workplace – useful to know if you're returning from maternity leave

I'm due back in work soon and have been breastfeeding my baby. I need to express and am worried because there are absolutely no facilities for me at work to do this.

I really don't fancy having to do it in the ladies' toilets every day. Have I any entitlement to ask for better facilities for this? Are there any laws?

IT'S a very relevant question for any breastfeeding mum going back to work. Believe it or not, there is help at hand. There have been regulations in place for seven years to assist breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.

There's an entitlement to breastfeeding breaks in law. The Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 states that women are entitled to paid breastfeeding or lactation breaks where the employer provide facilities, or a reduction of working hours without a loss of pay for breastfeeding where there are no facilities. This also applies to mums expressing breast milk.

These rights are spelled out in Section 9 of the 2004 Act. This section provides that an employee who is breastfeeding her child and has told her employer that she's doing so is entitled without loss of pay at the option of her employer to either: a) Take time off from work for the purpose of breastfeeding where facilities are provided in the workplace by her employer or b) a reduction of her working hours.

Lactation breaks can include the following: you are entitled to bring your baby into the workplace to breastfeed. Or it could involve -- as in your case -- expressing breast milk in the workplace, which is then used to feed your baby in creche or childcare.

You may have a creche onsite, so this would allow you to visit it to feed your baby. There would also be an entitlement to leave the workplace to breastfeed your baby.

The 2004 regulations provide for a minimum entitlement of one hour a day for paid breastfeeding or lactation breaks. This paid break can be split up into one whole 60-minute break, two 30-minute breaks or three 20-minute breaks.

The expectation would be that there would be adequate facilities provided on site if you are to express. That would have to include a private room, a fridge, comfortable chair and a power point nearby.

Of course, the legislation is designed to provide an either/or option. If the facilities aren't up to scratch then you have the option of reduced hours without loss of pay to provide for breastfeeding offsite.

In your question you said you were returning to work soon. It is important to note that if you want to breastfeed or express on returning to work you have to notify your employer in writing at least four weeks before you intend to return to work.

An employer has a right to require their employee to provide the child's birth certificate.

If women experience discrimination in work because of breastfeeding there are a number of legal options. There's protection in the Maternity protection Acts 1994/2004 and the Employment Equality Acts 1998/2004. Also, the one-year notice period to claim unfair dismissal is not required when an employee was dismissed for breastfeeding at work.

Mary Kirwan BL is a barrister and can be contacted at mkirwan@independent.ie

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