THE UK Government has been urged to introduce statutory breaks for breastfeeding mums in the workplace.

To mark the final day of World Breastfeeding Week, SNP MP Alison Thewliss has written to Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride to ask that he gives working mums better support to return to their jobs.

In the UK, new parents have no legal rights to breastfeeding or expressing breaks in the workplace, making it an “international outlier”, Thewliss said.

She points out in her letter that many other OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries offer paid breastfeeding breaks of up to one hour a day until the baby is 12 months old.

Guidelines from the Health and Safety Executive recommend new mothers and pregnant women are entitled to more breaks for breastfeeding or expressing.

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The letter states there is existing legislative protection for this indirectly through the Equality Act 2010, but no specific duty on employers to provide any minimum level of paid breaks for mums returning to work.

Thewliss (below) said in her letter: “The central focus of this year’s events [for World Breastfeeding Week] has been the advocacy of workplace support for breastfeeding and the pivotal role that this can play in facilitating optimal breastfeeding, in particular for the first six months.

“All working mothers need adequate maternity support if they are to practise optimal breastfeeding.

“They should receive appropriate breaks and facilities to breastfeed and express and store breastmilk.

The National:

“Workplace support will enable continued breastfeeding, which is beneficial for both employees and employers. Breastfeeding support is linked to less absenteeism and enhanced productivity at work, as well as higher staff retention rates.

“In the UK, new parents have no legal rights to breastfeeding or expressing breaks in the workplace. I understand this makes the UK somewhat of an international outlier in parental support.

“I would urge you to consider placing a direct duty on employers on to a statutory footing, in line with international best practice.

“Increasing breastfeeding rates has clear health and wellbeing outcomes, and should be a key focus of all government departments to do what they can to support their youngest citizens at a crucial stage of development.”

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Thewliss – who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding – has been a champion for new policies that encourage breastfeeding, such as encouraging football clubs across Scotland to declare their stadiums breastfeeding friendly.

She recently spoke at the launch of the Lancet Series – a report focused on the dangers of the marketing of baby formula in the UK.

She added: “It is imperative that mothers are able to receive appropriate breaks, work-site facilities and support to breastfeed and express and store breastmilk.

“Furthermore, access to adequate paternity and parental leave can also allow the non-breastfeeding parent to have time to share household responsibilities and provide other support to enable the mother to breastfeed.

“A welcoming and compassionate workplace life is so important for new parents as they raise their children, and I hope that the UK Government will take action to provide more support during this time.”