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Q&A with an Employed Breastfeeding Mother

From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 6, 2008-09, p. 37

Sarah O'Connor is a teacher of special educational needs at the English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong, China. She has two boys, Sennen (age 4) and Perec (age 22 months). When she returned to work she was determined to continue breastfeeding, and helped her employers formulate a breastfeeding policy. She talked to LLL Asia's publication, Close To The Heart, about her experience.

Q. What was your experience in terms of breastfeeding when you went back to work?

A. The first time I found it easier than the second time. I think that was because no one realized what I was doing or how it would impact things. I am quite a determined person and so I just got on with it. But the second time, there was a lot more resistance. I think people were then aware of what I was going to be doing and the kind of support I was requesting.

Q. What did you feel you needed?

A. I needed to have a location where I could express milk -- a quiet place with a plug socket for my electric pump. Even this simple thing was not easy. Just having a room wasn't enough. I found that I really needed the support and understanding of my colleagues, too; otherwise I would be constantly interrupted. I could not always have a private location and that meant using the resources area in the library, with a good friend on lookout!

Q. How did you approach management?

A. Both times I went straight to the top and just told them that I would be expressing milk. It was not an easy thing to do! I just had to take a deep breath and say out loud what I had planned -- and then I just got out of their office. I didn't want too many questions!

Q. Were there any hurdles?

A. The biggest hurdles were my colleagues. There were some who were supportive, and I could not have managed without them. But others were not supportive, and they found ways to make this evident to me. I guess it was because of them that I felt a policy was required. Somewhere it needed to say that breastfeeding your baby is important and that it is supported by the company, and that procedures and resources were to be put in place to allow and support the mother to breastfeed. For example, one of the hardest things for me to manage was to express milk in my lunch hour, eat lunch, and also do a duty. The duty of course was not really a priority and could have been managed by other members of staff.

Q. How did you get ideas for the wording of the policy?

A. I spent a long time trying to gather information and looking at lots of policies both from within Hong Kong and also abroad. I amalgamated all the information and formed supporting documents. I then approached my staff council and they set up a meeting with the head of human resources at the main office. Luckily for me, the staff council and human resources were extremely supportive. After one or two meetings, the head of human resources took over and wrote the policy. I believe that he did his own investigations into the practicalities of implementation and questioned each of the principles of the schools. The policy was submitted and then approved. However, just at this crucial time, he left the organization. We had to go almost back to the beginning with a new person, who had his own take and reworded the policy, removing one of the key facets that allowed the baby to be brought onsite to be breastfed. The updated policy was then approved and subsequently released to all schools.

Q. Are you happy with the final policy?

A. It was a long road, but I am happy with the results. It is not perfect -- well, it is not my original policy and wording. But I do feel that if you read behind the words to the essence of the document, we have come a long way. Perhaps someone else might take on the next step of updating and adding in the missing pieces.

Q. Would you encourage other working mothers to get involved with forming a breastfeeding policy for their place of work?

A. Yes, go for it. There are so many people that have benefited from this process and, as a result, I believe that more babies will be breastfed for a longer period of time. That feels pretty good.

Q. How important for you has it been to continue breastfeeding while at work?

A. I have found that breastfeeding is an essential part of being a working mother. It has allowed me to bond closely with my children. It was harder at first as I was expressing for the first year while at work, but then I was able to continue a breastfeeding relationship with my children without expressing. That is worth celebrating!

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