Mia Freedman – On the challenge of expressing at work

I’m supportive of breastfeeding and I understand the potential conflict that can arise if women don’t feel supported to express after they’ve returned to work

Mamamia was an early online pioneer, with Mia Freedman using her years of experience in women’s print media to launch a women’s website, with the tagline: “What women are talking about today”. In 2012, Mia launched parenting website ivillage.com.au. ivillage.com.au and Mamamia.com.au reach 1.3 million Australian women and generate 14 million page views monthly.

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Mia is the face of the recently concluded 2013 Philips AVENT Best Workplace to Express Award. She is helping to give a voice to women who have faced challenges when going back to work as a breastfeeding mother, and employers who have assisted their breastfeeding female employees after maternity leave. She is a hugely influential identity for new mums all around Australia, and she talks to Leaders in Heels about her own experiences as a new mum and choosing to return to work early after having children.

1. Why were you involved in this campaign?
As a publisher of websites for women and for mothers, I’m obviously very aware of the issues around work and parenting. And personally, I’ve had years of experience of expressing at work both as an employee and as an employer. I had my first child while I was Editor and I wanted to keep breastfeeding after I returned to work, so I expressed in my office for months.

When I had my second child, I was working in the male dominated world of TV and I still managed to express with the blinds pulled down in my glass walled office. After my third baby, I was self-employed by then and it was easier but I still expressed at work, as did my nanny after she came back to work part-time after having her first baby!

When one of my editorial team at ivillage.com.au had a baby last year, we had to find a space for her to express and as a boss I wanted to ensure she was comfortable and supported in her choice to continue breastfeeding after she came back to work.
I’m supportive of breastfeeding and I understand the potential conflict that can arise if women don’t feel supported to express after they’ve returned to work.

2. How many children do you have and how old are they?
My children are 15, 7 and 4 years of age.

3. How old were you with your first child when you returned to work and wanted to continue breastfeeding?
I was 25 when my son was born and he was about 4 months old when I went back to work part-time.

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4. How long did you express at work?
I expressed for eight months until my son was a year old.

5. Did you store the breast milk in the communal fridge, how did people react?
Nobody ever mentioned it. But when I worked in television, it amused me greatly to put my breastmilk in the bar fridge next to the beers.

6. Where did you express at work at ACP and Channel 9?
I was fortunate enough to have my own offices at Cosmo and at Channel Nine – even though both times they had glass walls! At Channel Nine I could pull the blinds down but I had no door lock so I had to put a post-it note on the outside and desperately hope it didn’t fall off! At Cosmo, I had to strategically position myself behind the closed door so I wouldn’t be seen.

7. How supportive were the women and men at work, was there any difference?
I think the men were embarrassed. They didn’t know what to say. The women I worked with were completely accepting. Mildly curious but that was it.

8. How do you support women in your current workplace who want to express at work?
We work in a small office without much privacy. Glass walls, lots of open plan spaces and communal desks. So our options were limited and there was no way I was ever going to allow my colleague to express in the toilet! So we chose the only place with privacy and a solid door which was the kitchen. We let everyone know there would be a certain time daily when she would be expressing and the kitchen was off limits. We closed the door, dragged a chair in there and left her to express in peace. Or as close to it as we could provide.

9. Now as an employer, do you have a policy in place?
Because of our size, we are able to be flexible and tailor solutions as they are required. Many of the women in our office with kids work part time or remotely.

10. What is the most unusual place you have had to breastfeed?
I’ve breastfed everywhere! Weddings, funerals, hospitals, synagogues, churches, boats, cars, beaches, in meetings, cinemas, restaurants, shops, trains and planes.

1. What are you reading presently?
The Rosie Project by Australian Author, Graeme Simpson. It’s about a man with Asperger syndrome who is trying to find a wife. Beautiful and brilliant!

2. Do you have a favourite saying or cliché at the moment?
“Bring it.”

3. What is the one phrase you would use to describe yourself?
I’m a mum, author, journalist and my wheels fall off ALL THE TIME!

The winner of the inaugural 2013 Philips AVENT Best Workplace To Express Award announced this morning is Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

Mia Freedman

Mia Freedman is the founder of mamamia.com.au Australia’s leading women’s website plus another site for mothers. She began her career in magazines, editing Cosmopolitan for seven years and going on to become the Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan, Cleo and Dolly magazines. She also worked as a commercial TV executive with the Nine Network.