How Mercy Health champions breastfeeding at work

Mercy Health’s head of HR shares advice on how to make your workplace breastfeeding-friendly.

Mercy Health has received the seal of approval from the Australian Breastfeeding Association for championing breastfeeding in the workplace.
It’s the tenth consecutive year the Catholic health organisation has received accreditation from the ABA, and HC Online sat down with Mercy Health Group’s head of HR to discuss what employers can do to promote breastfeeding at work.
Executive Director People, Learning & Culture Kate McCormack says breastfeeding-friendly workspaces should accommodate and support women who need to breastfeed or to express milk during working hours.
“The organisation, not only HR, has a role in making breastfeeding in the workplace as easy as possible,” McCormack told HC Online.
“If a conversation needs to be had with a manager about the importance of allowing extra short breaks for a limited period, HR should support the staff member with this,” she says.
“Ultimately, flexibility is key during this time.”
McCormack says employers need to find a balance between strategic business objectives and a commitment to employee health and wellbeing, equal employment opportunity, diversity and corporate social responsibility.

She says creating a breastfeeding-friendly workplace also goes a long way in helping organisations retain talented staff, as more mothers will feel supported to return to work while still breastfeeding.

While some employers may not be able to designate a special room for staff to use for breastfeeding or expressing milk, they can take other practical steps to accommodate their employees, McCormack says.
“Employers should take into account other spaces such as a private office, first aid or meeting room,” she says.
McCormack stresses that toilets are not a suitable option, so employers can consider flexible hours of work, working from home or an alternate site with suitable facilities.
Mercy Health Group Chief Executive Officer Adjunct Professor Stephen Cornelissen says establishing breastfeeding support as normal within the work environment also has flow-on effects by contributing to a breastfeeding-friendly culture in society more broadly. 
“Supporting breastfeeding employees is quite simple and inexpensive but makes an enormous difference to working mothers,” Cornelissen says.  
McCormack says more employers need to adapt and embrace the needs of mothers who wish to breastfeed for longer.
“The benefits a woman brings with her when returning to work far outweighs any consequences an organisation may face in supporting her during this time with suitable breastfeeding facilities,” she says.
“Organisations need to remember that the needs of a breastfeeding employee are minimal and often for a short period of time.”
She says education is key to enlightenment, and this applies to all levels of the organisation.
“At an organisation like Mercy Health where a significant portion of our business is providing care to mothers and babies, our workforce is well informed on the multitude of benefits breastfeeding brings,” she says.
“Breastfeeding couldn’t be more natural for those who choose to pursue it, highlighting the benefits not only to mother and baby but the benefits an organisation can reap through mothers returning to work should be the focus.” 
As part of its Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace (BFW) accreditation, Mercy Health offers employment conditions that support women to combine breastfeeding and work, including lactation breaks, flexible work options and access to private rooms to express breastmilk. 


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