Many expat women don’t think twice about giving birth in Singapore, thanks to its fantastic hospital facilities, comprehensive services, and more typically Western practices — such as hiring a doula — becoming more common. Singapore is extremely child-friendly and most new mums can find plenty of support in those first few weeks.
But for some working mothers, continuing to breastfeed after returning to work can be difficult. For expats, it can seem particularly daunting. With differing cultural norms and a heightened sense of feeling like an outsider, it can be difficult to know exactly how supported breastfeeding is at work — and how much to ask for in terms of time and space to express milk.
Last week, The Straits Times ran a story with tips to help encourage breastfeeding in the workplace stating, “Luckily, more employers are getting comfortable with the idea of mothers expressing their milk in the workplace.” The article also highlighted inaugural awards presented by NTUC U Family, called the “Liquid Gold Awards,” awarded to companies with breast-feeding friendly practices. We at The Finder are delighted to see increased awareness around this issue, however, some new working mothers are still finding the experience far from ideal.
Claire*, who works at NUS Faculty of Engineering, has just returned to work after a 3-month maternity leave. “There is no place for me to pump,” she says. “The only empty and private space I could find was an old, abandoned pantry which is private, but dirty and hot.” She is now expressing milk in an old experiment room with no lock and chemicals everywhere. “It is not very sanitary, but it’s better than the restroom!” She says she has friends who, lacking any alternative space, have resorted to doing just that.
Claire says she tried asking for a more suitable room but each person she calls refers her to someone else. “I just keep getting the run around.” She says after giving birth, she felt encouraged by the support from lactation consultants at the hospital and assumed a large institution such as NUS would have someplace for new mums to go, but she has yet to find it. “What more can I do?” she asks.
According to The Straits Times article, women should speak with their employers about expressing milk and work with them to identity a private space. But the onous is still largely on new mothers — expats or Singaporean — to find or create this space. The Ministry of Manpower does not have any provisions in the Employment Act that expressly (no pun intended) address the rights of working mothers. NTUC U Family, Health Promotion Board (HPB) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) have written an Employer’s Guide to Breastfeeding at the Workplace, which is a good starting point on how to speak with your employer about the conditions of your lactation space (or lack thereof).
Singapore is taking strides to becoming a fantastic model of breastfeeding support for working women and by raising more awareness about the problems which still persist.
To read all of the tips outlined by The Straits Times, click here for the full article.
For more tips on where to go for breastfeeding support in Singapore, click here.
*Name has been changed.
By Kathleen Siddell, The Finder, September 2015