Women have not lost right to breastfeed at work

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Women - Photo Central Audiovisual Library, European Commission

Women have not 'lost the right to breastfeed at work' as has been reported in the media this week, warns the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Under health and safety legislation employers are required to provide pregnant and breastfeeding women with a place to rest. The Health and Safety Executive also recommends that employers provide women who are breastfeeding with suitable rest periods, access to a private room to express milk, and somewhere to store milk.

These facts are not changed by the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision in Helen Williams's case against the MoD. Last year Helen Williams won her sex discrimination case. She brought her claim because she felt she had no choice but to resign from her post as an Engineering Officer as the MoD's guidance on maternity arrangements stated that if she wanted to continue breastfeeding beyond her maternity leave period she would have to take unpaid occupational maternity absence.

Her employer appealed against the tribunal's decision. The EAT has decided that the part of her case that relates to breastfeeding should be heard again by another tribunal, because the original tribunal made an error of law in the way it approached the case. If the case is successful at the tribunal it will extend protection against discrimination for breastfeeding women.

Jenny Watson, Deputy Chair of the EOC, said: "The practical reality of modern mothers' lives means that many return to work while they are breastfeeding. We believe that they should be protected from discrimination on grounds of maternity in the same way as women on maternity leave.

Liz Kendall, Director of the Maternity Alliance, said: "The current confusion over the rights of breastfeeding mothers must now end. In other European countries new mothers are entitled to paid breaks to breastfeed their babies. The Maternity Alliance believes the Government should act to ensure the same rights apply in the UK."

In May this year the Government recommended that women should breastfeed for the first six months of their child's life.

Guidance on breastfeeding at work is available from the Maternity Alliance.

A guide for new and expectant mothers is available from the Health and Safety Executive.

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