Forum: Make breastfeeding easier for mums when they return to workplaces

The article, "Pandemic a boon for breastfeeding mums" (July 26), highlighted how work-from-home arrangements have enabled mothers to breastfeed longer and more comfortably than when they worked in the office.

While this is a positive change for working mothers, it raises the question: After we return to the office, will our in-person work environments also be able to accommodate breastfeeding mothers?

Or is this only a temporary respite for many working mothers?

Mothers need a clean, private area to express milk at scheduled times.

In 2018, Singapore-based Facebook group Breastfeeding Mums highlighted the struggles mothers face with direct supervisors, including a lack of understanding of the effects of not expressing milk and a belief that taking multiple breaks throughout the workday is unproductive.

A national breastfeeding survey done in 2011 also showed a significant drop in breastfeeding once mothers returned to work. Reasons cited included lack of facilities and difficulty working flexible hours.

The pandemic may have allowed a harmonising of work and breastfeeding by eliminating these barriers, giving mums the flexibility to breastfeed as needed, in environments that are hygienic and free of judgment from employers.

But as Singaporeans strive to live with Covid-19 in the near future, these arrangements should be transferred to our physical work spaces.

According to the International Labour Organisation, more than 65 per cent of countries around the world have enacted some sort of legislation entitling mothers to either remunerated nursing breaks or a daily reduction of working hours.

A recent policy wish list released by the Association of Women for Action and Research, pooling suggestions from pregnant women and female caregivers, voiced support for similar recommendations.

And Members of Parliament such as Mr Louis Ng have called for a more supportive work environment for mothers.

Suggestions to help breastfeeding mums have been made by the Health Promotion Board, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore

National Employers Federation in their jointly released employers' guide to breastfeeding in the workplace.

However, these remain mere recommendations and do not obligate employers to provide the recommended support.

Given our Government's commitment to cultivating inclusive workplaces, legislating the rights of breastfeeding mothers in workplaces may be a necessary step in that direction.

As we take strides towards gender equality in our nation, I urge the Government to consider making the issue of breastfeeding mothers in the workplace a priority.

Tamara Lacroix