Employers' Guide - to Establishing Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace

(Content revised 01/2022)

Combining Breastfeeding and Work

Breastmilk is nutritious and contains a variety of antibodies and immune cells for diseases prevention. It brings far more benefits to infants and young children than formula milk. Breastfeeding also helps mothers reduce the risk of breast and ovar-ian cancers. The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies up to about six months of age and gradually introducing appropriate solid food while continuing breastfeeding until two years old or beyond.

With an increased awareness of breastfeeding among Hong Kong families and the implementation of a series of supportive measures by the Department of Health, the percentage of mothers breastfeeding their newborns has increased from 66% a decade ago to 86% in 2014.1 However, local studies point out that the main reason for mothers to stop breastfeeding in the first three months after delivery is “returning to the workplace”.2 Many working mothers comment that it is difficult to express breastmilk in the workplace even if they want to continue breastfeeding their babies.3

1Regular reports received by the Department of Health from all maternity units of public and private hospitals in Hong Kong.

2Tarrant M et al. Breastfeeding and weaning practices among Hong Kong mothers: a prospective study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2010 10:27.

3Tarrant M, Dodgson JE, Tsang SF: Initiating and sustaining breastfeeding in Hong Kong: contextual influences on new mothers' experiences. Nurs Health Sci 2002, 4(4):189-199.

What is a “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace”?

A “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace” is where an organisation or enterprise provides an appropriate and friendly environment for their breastfeeding employees to express breastmilk in the workplace in order to continue breastfeeding their children. The following three measures are to be in place:

  1. Allowing lactation breaks (about two 30-minute breaks during an eight hour shift) for expression of breastmilk for at least one year after childbirth, and to adopt a flexible approach thereafter.
  2. Providing a space with privacy, an appropriate chair, a table and an electrical socket for connecting breastmilk pumps; and
  3. Providing a refrigerator for storing breastmilk (a pantry refrigerator will do).

What are the benefits to organisations or enterprises by Establishing a “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace”?

Human resources are invaluable assets of organisations and enterprises. In a bid to attract and retain talents, many employers provide generous fringe benefits and training on top of competitive salaries. Accepting employees' choices to continue breastfeeding in the workplace in a friendly way is one of the fringe benefits that suits the society nowadays. These family-friendly measures can reduce the turnovers of female employees including the experienced ones. Overseas studies indicate that breastfed children are healthier, the parents take less leaves for taking care of sick children and also face relatively less pressure.4

In addition to the win-win situation for employers and employees, the implementation of “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace” measures can help prolong the breastfeeding duration of infants and young children, promote the overall health of our society and reduce health care expenditure.

4U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Business Case for Breastfeeding. Steps for Creating a Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite: For Business Managers. 2008.

Putting into Actions

Flexible arrangement and good communication are essential in the implementation of “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace” measures. Good communication between the management, breastfeeding employees and other colleagues is needed to attain mutual understanding and harmonious coordination.

  1. Develop a Written Policy

    Develop a written organisation policy on “Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace”, which will enhance communication between the management and staff, and align practices in the workplace. Please make reference to the “Policy Sample”.

  2. Lactation Breaks

    Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed a baby. In accordance with the spirit of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convertion,5 a lactation break shall be included in the working hours and remunerated accordingly. The following are recommended good measures:

    1. Allow two 30-minute lactation breaks or an hour in total for an eight-hour working day;
    2. Lactation breaks are recommended to be counted as “paid” working hours;
    3. Employees are not expected to make up for the time used for milk expression; and
    4. Proof of breastfeeding status is not required for allowing lactation breaks.

    5ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) & Recommendation No. 191. International Labour Organization, ILO

  3. Facilities for Milk Expression

    Existing resources can be deployed flexibly to provide employees with a place for expressing breastmilk with privacy. Below are some examples of the arrangements:

    1. Provide a lactation room for employees;
    2. Use existing rooms such as conference rooms, multifunction rooms or changing room temporarily for milk expression;
    3. Set up a screen or curtain in a secluded corner for expressing breastmilk and display a signage such as “mummy's break,please wait”; or
    4. Allow employees to visit nearby community baby care facilities during lactation breaks.

    However, toilets or restrooms are absolutely not suitable for sanitary reasons.

    The following facilitates and measures are needed in a breastmilk expression location:

    1. A chair with back rest for breastfeeding mothers to sit down when expressing breastmilk;
    2. A small table for placing equipment needed during breastmilk expression;
    3. A power socket; and
    4. Other facilities such as liquid soap, running water and sinks as well as lockers can be considered.
  4. Refrigeration Facilities for Keeping Breastmilk

    Breastmilk is characterised by its antibacterial properties. Storing in a refrigerator or a cool box is generally safe. Simply put the expressed milk in a box placed inside the pantry refrigerator will do. A separate refrigerator is not needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question 1: How to support a breastfeeding employees with outdoor duties?

Answer 1: The successful implementation of “Breastfeeding Friendly Work place” measure depends on an open communication between employers and employees. Employers should discuss with employees about their needs. They may flexibly arrange the employees' outdoor working time, or consider arrangements like the examples below:

  1. Allow employees to use nearby community baby care facilities; or
  2. Arrange alternative postings for breastfeeding employees to enable them to continue to express breastmilk at work.
These flexible arrangements can be reduced gradually when their babies get older.

Question 2: How to respond if more lactation breaks or longer breaks are requested by breastfeeding employees?

Answer 2: Some breastfeeding mothers may need more breaks or longer breaks to express breastmilk, like those who have recently returned to work. They take time to adapt to a new milk expression environment. These mothers may consider using their spare time to express breastmilk such as lunchtime, the time before or after working hours. Moreover, they can seek advice from medical professionals on breastfeeding related concerns.

Question 3: How to deal with the possible grievances of other employees?

Answer 3: Some employees may consider the measures unfair, for example, the need for them to take up tasks or duties for breastfeeding employees during their lactation breaks and not having the equivalent time off. Fortunately, overseas experience indicates that the majority of employees, regardless of their genders, support the implementation of breastfeeding friendly measures in workplace.

Frequent open communication between the management, breastfeeding employees and rest of the staff, making known the temporary nature of the measures and the long-term benefits for multiple parties will facilitate a successful implementation.

Question 4: If an employee has been breastfeeding for more than a year, is the employer required to continue granting her two lactation breaks a day?

Answer 4: When children reach the age of one, they are already eating a variety of food. The daily milk intake and the frequency of breastfeeding or breastmilk expressions will reduce accordingly. At this stage, most breastfeeding mothers only need one lactation break a day. The employer can make arrangement flexibly to accommodate employees' needs for continued breastfeeding.

(Policy Sample)

"Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace" Policy

Our Organisation (or Company) recognises employees' choices to breastfeed, accepts and supports employees returning to work after delivery to continue breastfeeding.

The Policy aims to provide an appropriate and friendly environment for breastfeeding employees so that breastfeeding is compatible with work. All employees should be informed of this Policy to ensure that they are aware of it.

  1. Expectant Mothers

    Discuss with the management as soon as possible about their wishes to continue breastfeeding after returning to work, to facilitate a good preparation by both parties in a comfortable timeframe.

  2. Management Staff

    Consider the practical situation and provide an appropriate and friendly environment including the basic measures below:

    1. Allowing lactation breaks (about two 30-minute breaks during an eight hour shift) for expression of breastmilk for at least one year after childbirth, and to adopt a flexible approach thereafter;
    2. Providing a space with privacy, an appropriate chair, a table and an electrical socket for connecting breastmilk pumps; and
    3. Providing a refrigerator for storing breastmilk.
  3. Co-workers

    Accept and support the choices of colleagues returning to work after delivery to continue breastfeeding.

Employees who wish to obtain breastfeeding related information and professional advice can browse the resources provided by the Family Health Service of the Department of Health as below:

  • An Employee's Guide to Combining Breastfeeding with Work: http://s.fhs.gov.hk/i9uvr
  • Maternal and Child Health Centres: Breastfeeding Counseling Service

Breastfeeding Resources of the Department of Health

For more breastfeeding information, please browse the website of the Family Health Service of the Department of Health at www.fhs.gov.hk:

Information from Unicef

Your company / organization can provide time, space and support to help mothers sustain breastfeeding.

Pledge your support to breastfeeding mothers now.

www.SayYesToBreastfeeding.hk

Contact us to learn more

Tel: 2833 6139

E-mail: bf@unicef.org.hk

#SayYesToBreastfeeding