La Leche League GB is concerned about the implications of major changes to parental leave for breastfeeding mothers:
Written by Anna Burbidge on behalf of LLLGB, October 2012 ©
The Government has indicated there will be major changes to maternity, paternity and parental leave, with the emphasis on highly flexible parental leave proposals which either parent could take in the baby’s first year. At present, qualifying women are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, unless they give notice to their employers of a wish to return sooner, and the assumption is that they will take a full year. But it could be that in future women will take a maximum of 18 weeks maternity leave and further leave will be defined as “flexible parental leave”. This differs from the current Additional Paternity Leave proposals where a woman has a choice to transfer any remaining leave and pay to her partner when she returns to work.
Reducing maternity leave to 18 weeks, of which 11 weeks could be before the birth, will have consequences which could affect the health and wellbeing of mother, baby and family. In the UK, maternity rights were introduced primarily for health and safety reasons and the proposed changes, as well as being a retrograde step for hard won maternity rights, will have a widespread impact on breastfeeding. If mothers feel obliged or pressured to return to work earlier, they may feel unwilling to even start breastfeeding, and those that do may feel they have to reduce or stop breastfeeding before they want to.
Women who go back to work at 18 weeks, or sooner, but want to carry on breastfeeding will need a clean, private place to express and store their milk. They will also need health and safety protection, flexible working hours and protection from indirect sex discrimination. They need rest facilities and protection from harassment preventing sufficient breaks to express milk. Breastfeeding for many mothers may descend into a tangle of equipment, pumping and pressure. It seems likely more breastfeeding relationships will come to a premature end.
The UNICEF report, published October 2012, highlighted the many health benefits to mother and child, both in the short and long term, and the fact that the NHS could save £40m a year if there was an increase in exclusive breastfeeding. This improvement on the health and well being of both mother and baby will also benefit employers, with mothers needing less time off from work because of family illness.
While La Leche League understands that the Government wishes to invoke equality in parental care for children, these proposals seem to lack consideration of the impact on families, and ignore health and biological imperatives, the importance of the mother and child relationship and particularly the benefits of continued breastfeeding. We would like to see breastfeeding considered the normal way to feed a baby and for women to be able to stay at home with their babies if they want to and not be forced into a decision to leave them and return to work.
La Leche League (LLL) was founded in 1956 by seven mothers who wanted to make breastfeeding easier and more rewarding for both mother and child. The organisation offers information and encouragement to those women who want to breastfeed their babies.
LLLGB, a Registered UK Charity (Number 283771) is part of La Leche League International which is active in 65 countries and territories reaching more than 200,000 mothers monthly through a network of over 6,700 accredited, volunteer counsellors (known as Leaders). LLL International is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in consultative status with UNICEF, in official relations with the World Health Organisation (WHO), and is a founding member of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA).
LLLGB can be contacted via its website www.laleche.org.uk and our helpline 0845 120 2918.