Tips to discuss breastfeeding at work

As the average age of motherhood rises and more women understanding the benefits of

breastfeeding and knowing their rights, many want to continue breastfeeding when they return to

work from maternity leave but don’t know how to raise this issue at work.

With the World Breastfeeding Week on the 1-7 August 2015 under the theme “Breastfeeding

and Work, Let’s make it work”, here are some tips on how to speak to your manager about

breastfeeding after maternity leave.

Know the law. In South Africa, the Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees

during Pregnancy and after the Birth of a Child (which forms part of the Basic Conditions of

Employment Act), requires employers to allow breastfeeding employees 30 minutes breaks twice

per day for breast-feeding or expressing milk every day for the first six months of the child’s life..

Ask about it before going on maternity leave. In this way your employer has time to look at

the best ways to accommodate you. This provides a win-win for you to get what you when you

return from maternity leave and your manager is not under pressure to find workable solutions.

Put it in writing before setting up a meeting. By putting your request in writing, you give your

manager time to think about your request and not be caught off-guard especially if they are

uncomfortable with the topic.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Being demanding will only alienate your

manager, so rather ask nicely. Instead of saying, “The law gives me the right to…” it would be

better if you say “I’d like us to work together to find ways that can work for both of us.” This

approach can go a long way in winning him/her over to your side.

Explain how the company stands to benefit. Companies always want to know the “What’s in it

for me” with any requests they receive. Research shows that companies that support

breastfeeding/expressing benefit in a number of ways such as reduced medical costs and health

insurance claims for breastfeeding employees as well as their infants; reduced staff turnover

rates; reduced absenteeism rates; Improved productivity; and increased employee morale and

loyalty to the company.1

Be flexible. Offer to come earlier or leave later if your manager is concerned about the time that

you put in.

If push comes to shove. If after trying the above, your manager still does not want to come to

the party, advise him/her of your legal rights.  Go through the Codes of Good Practice mentioned

above and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act to understand what is required from your

employer and also from you.

Breast pump cover by medical aids. Some medical aids pay for breast pumps. Check with

your medical aid what their terms and conditions are in this regard.

Talking about pregnancy and breastfeeding is a big challenge for many women because of

the discrimination that comes with it. Bringing up the topic in a calm and clear manner best

for both you and your manager.

Written by Sizile Makola

Sizile Makola is the owner at My Claim Mate, a UIF claiming agency and also consults with

businesses on Employment Equity Strategies and Plans which include attracting, developing and

keeping talented women in organisations.

1 The Business Case for Breastfeeding: A Successful Regional Implementation, Evaluation, and

Follow-Up. Cheza C. Garvin, Natasha K. Sriraman, Amy Paulson, Elise Wallace, Charley E. Martin,

and Liz Marshall. Breastfeeding Medicine. August 2013, 8(4): 413-417.