August 1-7 marks World Breastfeeding Week. This year’s theme is “Enabling Breastfeeding: making a difference for working parents.” Supported by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, the initiative advocates for essential maternity rights, including a minimum of 18 weeks leave and workplace accommodations to facilitate breastfeeding.
Jennifer Beer, a nurse on St. Paul’s Hospital’s Pregnancy, Birthing and Newborn Unit, returned to work shortly after her maternity leave with her first child. Her second baby (pictured), is just under a year old.
“I have always been supported by my colleagues to be able to go and pump,” Beer says. “Often, individuals would let me take my break before theirs simply because they knew I needed to.”
Women shouldn’t have to choose between work and breastfeeding
Beer’s experience demonstrates a key theme of World Breastfeeding Week. Women should not have to choose between their jobs and breastfeeding their children. This year’s campaign stresses that support is possible across different workplaces and contract types, enabling parents like Jennifer to balance their nursing responsibilities with their careers to achieve a sustainable work-life balance.
Supportive workplace environments
Alongside longer maternity leave, World Breastfeeding Week advocates for adequate maternity protections in the workplace. According to WHO, just 20 per cent of countries require employers to provide employees with paid breaks and facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk.
Diana Linnyk, another St. Paul’s Hospital employee, returned to shift work as a cardiology technologist after her maternity leave. She breastfeeds her 21-month-old baby before and after her shifts. And she acknowledges the efforts of Providence Health Care in prioritizing the needs of working parents. “I know that parents are provided with a multitude of resources on caring for and feeding their baby,” she says. “Parents are also welcome to breastfeed in all public spaces, which makes it a lot easier and accessible, and helps reduce any stigma associated with the process.”
As a breastfeeding mother, Linnyk had initial concerns about returning to the workplace, such as losing her supply or being forced to stop breastfeeding. However, Providence’s part-time position options, combined with the support of her team and management, eased the transition. “I once attempted to prolong my leave as we could not find any daycare for my son, but my leave was already at 18 months,” says Linnyk. “The management team was able to help me get an additional month off.”
A baby-friendly hospital
Earlier this year, St. Paul’s Hospital welcomed assessors from the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. This evaluation was the final step in a three-year journey to becoming designated as Baby-Friendly, as part of the Baby-Friendly Initiative. St. Paul’s Hospital is only the second in British Columbia to achieve this designation.
“As a BFI-designated facility, our responsibility is to ensure that we set our staff up for success when they return to work,” says Amy Hamill, Program Director, Pregnancy & Birthing Services, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Paul’s. “We have supported staff with pumps, early access to a lactation consultant and a personalized feeding plan. Our resources are available to all staff, particularly those who may want to return to work when their baby is young.”
While she doesn’t need to pump or feed on-site, Linnyk appreciates Providence’s ongoing support to breastfeeding employees. “I felt very happy and proud to be a part of the Providence family when I found out that St. Paul’s became a designated baby-friendly hospital,” she says. “It’s great to know that mothers are receiving the maximum support they need without compromising their jobs.”
The celebration of World Breastfeeding Week emphasizes that breastfeeding in the workplace benefits parents and their babies and can build and support healthier populations and workforces. WHO affirms that policymakers, employers and colleagues all play a part in encouraging breastfeeding-friendly environments, ensuring every working parent can provide their child with vital health and nutritional benefits as they continue their careers.
Learn more about World Breastfeeding Week here.
Story by Claire Martindale