The business of breastfeeding

Following the recent Kochie public outrage; mothers, breastfeeding and public places are a hot topic. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon and diving into familiar debates over women’s rights, appropriateness and professionalism, we thought we’d share some examples of women who are breastfeeding wherever and whenever they choose (including the workplace), and how the government and employers are responding.

US case: teacher breastfeeding while….teaching

Over in the US, Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor at American University in Washington awoke to a sick child. Refused admission to day care, she brought the child to work with her. The feminist anthropology class ran for 75 minutes and at a certain point, Pine breastfed the infant whilst continuing to teach her class of 40 students. Whilst the university’s response proved to be mainly supportive, she faced backlash from students and the press, with a common underlying suggestion that her behaviour was “unprofessional”. It was Pine’s first day on the job and not wanting to jeopardise her students’ education or her tenure, she said she made a judgement call.

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Pine responded to the resulting interest from students and local press by publishing an online paper titled: “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet.” From which we quote: “So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.”

The university provided private areas for nursing mothers, and publicly declared their support for employees who must take personal leave to care for a sick child. Pine created an alternative option which was neither promoted nor forbidden, but why the backlash? It seems that whichever choice this woman made, she potentially faced criticism. Whilst the workplace provides necessary support, this doesn’t necessarily translate into supportive attitudes from all involved.

Breastfeeding in Australia

In Australia, supportive attitudes can result in accreditation. We have recently seen two businesses recognised as an official BFW (breastfeeding friendly workplace), the most prominent being Mamaway, a maternity wear company with a store in Burwood. In this store, employees are able to breastfeed whenever they like, even whilst performing work tasks and this is just one of many Mamaway baby-friendly policies. A PR firm in Sydney also recently adopted breastfeeding friendly policies to avoid losing staff after pregnancy.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association says this is all part of what is necessary to keep up with a changing society. ABA National Manager, Tracy Kelly said: “More and more women are returning to work when their babies are still breastfeeding… There are very few companies like [Mamaway]… That’s fantastic.” The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that around 118,000 women return to work when their child is 6 months old or younger. In spite of this, the Australian Breastfeeding Association Accreditation Program has been active for more than 10 years and currently contains only around 100 companies. It is, however, expecting a 50% increase in the coming months, with the Australian Air Force as one of the anticipated participants.

Legal obligations

Alina Kaye, one of EI’s solicitors advises employers of their legal obligations:
The National Employment Standards under the Fair Work Act 2009 provide a return to work guarantee for eligible employees. Certain Federal and State anti-discrimination laws also prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of pregnancy, breastfeeding and family responsibilities. In the face of new reporting requirements as part of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, companies with over 100 staff must also report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, detailing their working arrangements which support employees with family or caring responsibilities.

So, becoming a BFW will be on the cards for many businesses as a recruitment and retention strategy, but also as a necessity.

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What do you think? Encouraging new mothers to return to work is an objective shared by many businesses and for universally agreed benefits. Aside from the legal requirements, should there be an extra push for all workplaces to become a BFW? Should we also anticipate that some companies may take Mamaway approach that anytime, anyplace goes?

Melinda is a HR Manager with Employment Innovations (EI), based in Melbourne; she primarily assists clients in the retail and hospitality industry. With over 10 years of experience in human resource management, Mel provides advice and training on HR practices and employment law, assisting clients with the implementation of effective human resource tools and strategies. Visit

Top image: Times