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Breastfeeding at Work

Published May 9, 2018 (last updated on December 4, 2023) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

One decision facing new mothers is whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed their newborn baby. New Zealand employment law stipulates that women who choose to breastfeed can return to work and continue to either breastfeed or express milk during working hours. The Employment Relations Act 2000 states that employers must provide appropriate facilities for any employees who choose to breastfeed at work, and that adequate breaks must be provided.

Breastfeeding breaks may be paid or unpaid, depending on the specific circumstances and the employment agreement.

What Employers Need to Know

The Code of Employment Practice on Infant Feeding outlines employer obligations in more detail. While employers are obligated to give employees access to breastfeeding facilities in the workplace, these facilities do not have to be complicated or costly for the business. Having regard to the employer’s operational environment and resources, an employer must as far as reasonable and practicable provide appropriate facilities and appropriate breaks for breastfeeding.  In most cases, a private space with comfortable seating is adequate. If the employee is expressing milk, she may also need access to a power point, fridge and wash basin.

Arrangements for breastfeeding breaks and facilities can be negotiated between the employer and employee. There is no ‘formal’ arrangement that needs to be followed, but the arrangement must be reasonable and practical for both parties.

Benefits of Encouraging Breastfeeding In The Workplace

Many employees balance work and family responsibilities and may choose to return to work soon after the birth of a child. Businesses who adapt to these conditions and provide flexible support for breastfeeding employees can benefit in a number of ways. These may include:

  • promoting the business as family-friendly and progressive

  • retaining key employees who would otherwise leave due to family obligations

  • saving money on recruiting and training new employees

How to Provide Reasonable Breastfeeding Facilities

Due to the complex nature of some workplaces, employers and employees should discuss their respective needs in person when negotiating breastfeeding at work. These talks should happen as early as possible so there is enough time to negotiate and implement changes into the workplace.

Toilets are not a suitable option for breastfeeding, as they are unsanitary and inappropriate in some cultures.

The minimum requirements for a breastfeeding space include:

  • a private, quiet and warm room or space

  • if necessary, the inclusion of private curtains or a screen

  • a low comfortable chair

For employees who are expressing breast milk, they will need additional facilities on top of the above-mentioned requirements, such as:

  • a basin

  • a fridge or chilly bin with ice packs – if these are not viable, a room at a temperature of 19-22°C for storing breast milk for up to two hours

  • a table

  • a small locker or cupboard for storing equipment

  • a power point for using an electrical pump

Open communication is the key to reaching practical solutions that satisfy the needs of both parties. If a mutual agreement cannot be reached, both parties can approach the Employment Mediation Service to help resolve the situation.

Breastfeeding at Work Policy

With breastfeeding in the workplace becoming more common, employers and employees need to be informed on their rights and responsibilities to reach the most practical solutions.

A breastfeeding policy can reduce the chance of confusion or misunderstandings which can cause problems in the workplace. This policy may help employees feel more comfortable talking about their needs and allow employers to set necessary boundaries.

A breastfeeding at work policy should include:

  • roles and responsibilities of employers and employees

  • type of breastfeeding facilities that are reasonable for the particular workplace

  • possible limitations that may impact on establishing breastfeeding facilities

  • managing rest and meal breaks along with breastfeeding breaks

  • whether or not breastfeeding breaks will be paid

For advice on how to manage breastfeeding in the workplace, or assistance creating a policy, contact Employsure on 0800 568 012.

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