Breastfeeding mums share the struggles of pumping at work in Singapore
When it comes to pumping at work in Singapore, how exactly do our workplaces fare? Is the breastfeeding mum getting the support she deserves?
When it comes to pumping at work in Singapore, how exactly do our workplaces fare?
Today, we are well aware of the various health benefits that breastfeeding offers, both to the baby and mum. The WHO in fact, recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months.
However, as maternity leave in Singapore is only for 4 months, many mums may need to continue breastfeeding after going back to work, to ensure optimum nutrition for their babies.
A working mum needs to express milk about 2 -3 times a day to maintain her supply. She also needs a clean, comfortable, private and safe environment to express milk, and a refrigerator to store the expressed breast milk.
The question is, is the working, breastfeeding mum in Singapore getting the support she deserves?
Pumping at work in Singapore : Government policies
There have been a number of Government initiatives to encourage breastfeeding:
- The Health Promotion Board (HPB) is actively promoting the message that breast milk is best for babies, especially in the first year of life.
Mothers are encouraged to continue breastfeeding their baby until they are 12 months of age, or longer if desired.
- HPB has also been working with organisations such as the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) to encourage more employers to create breastfeeding-friendly workplaces for mums.
- MOH is also encouraging all hospitals providing maternity services to achieve the International Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) Certification.
To avoid conflict of interest, BFHI-certified hospitals are also not allowed to enter into sponsorship arrangements with formula milk companies.
Currently, all three public hospitals offering maternity services – namely, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital – are BFHI-certified.
- HPB, SNEF and NTUC also have an employer’s guide to breastfeeding at the workplace that provides employers with information on what they can do to support employees to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
- The WorkPro Work-Life Grant provides funding and incentives for organisations. Under this grant, co-funding of up to S$20,000 is available to build lactation rooms.
Have these initiatives led to more supportive workplaces then?
We asked mums from the Breastfeeding Mums Support Group on Facebook, on the realities of pumping at work in Singapore.
Their stories were a revelation. The good part is, a lot of mummies had positive stories to share about their pumping experience. Unfortunately, the sad stories still exist. The general opinion though, is that Singapore has come a long way from treating pumping at work as taboo. We are slowly but surely getting there.
Let's examine in closer detail what these awesome mummies had to say.
Pumping at work in Singapore: The Good
Here are some of the positive things we heard:
Supportive boss and colleagues
A lot of mummies were impressed by how supportive their boss and colleagues were. Mummy Gel KA says, "My boss actually brought up and asked me if I needed a nursing room during my interview with her!"
Mum Jean Jie Yim Tan also shares, "My boss was even supportive of me getting pregnant and knowing that I have to take care of my little one with minimal help at first, she let me stay and work from home till baby became 6-months old! She paid me my full salary and even more during then."
Mummy Lee Hsueh Er has a sweet story to share too, "My company allows me to use the server room while my 2 IT guys are outside "guarding" for me!"
And we were super impressed by what mum Prema Mokhna Rau had to say, "The boys in my team will remind me to pump at my pump timing and prioritise that over work and meetings."
"Each day they go out of their way to suggest lunching at places that sell food that is nourishing for a new mother!"
We also got to know that many companies were actually making an extra effort to create the perfect ambience for breastfeeding mums.
Mum Jasmin Bernadette Ng tells us, "My office has a lockable nursing room with fridge and table. The mummies will write their names in a time table to book time slot. The building management has nursing rooms in the building and it’s open 24 hrs for nursing mummies to use."
And some of the offices are rather hi-tech too. Just like Mummy Jan Wang's office, "My office has a ‘nurture room’ dedicated to breastfeeding mums, 3 arm chairs with curtains, small round table and electrical plug for each."
"There’s also a full-sized fridge with sink and wet wipes..there’s also a program that helps you ship back frozen breast milk if you are travelling for work!"
If you thought that was "wow", check out what mum Kym Mikaela Li has to say, "We have a highly secure nursing room. We need to scan our staff pass in order to access it and there 3 partition rooms, sofa, fridge, steam sterilizer, Nescafe machine, and lockers to place our breastfeeding gear!"
"And this room called "Mothercare Room" and cleaner to clean the room everyday!"
Pumping at work in Singapore: The Bad
Now comes the negative part.
It is sad that even today, many mums have to resort to pumping at unhygienic places like toilets, due of lack of support at work.
Say mummy Marina Azman, "My workplace isn't really breastfeeding-friendly and there isn't a nursing room around, so all my pumping sessions are in the 'handicapped' toilet."
Mum Evelyn Kong shares, "I pump in the toilet and eat in the toilet when my schedule is tight, and I'm running out of time."
And many offices have glass doors which offer no privacy. One mum told us, "Meeting rooms either are fully glass or have no lock."
"I used a meeting room with no lock but stuck a notice on the door. My MD still walked in. Then another colleague walked in."
"Just because there is no nursing room. I risk walk in because it is either meeting rooms or toilets. Why should my child's food be made in the toilet?"
One mum is already feeling the stress in her 2nd week back to work, "No place to pump. I have to resort to using handicapped toilet. And it's forever occupied."
"By the time I got hold of the toilet, my pumping sessions (11 am & 3 pm) at 30 mins each is way past the scheduled time."
"Every time the sessions got delayed, my breasts get fuller and a bit uncomfortable. And colleagues are not open to the idea of me pumping at desk. I'm not comfortable to pump in meeting room because of glass panels partitions."
"Why you take so long?"
Even after enduring so many hardships, our mums get called out for taking too long and for not being at their desk.
"I get stared at when I use 15 mins of work time. Why don't they stare at people who go for frequent smoking breaks?!!", asked one mum.
"Give formula milk"
And then, there are mums who get the advice, "Why take so much trouble? Just give formula milk!"
Mummy Michelle Dungao reveals, "I was about to pump when our lady boss saw me in the rest room and asked me if I’m about to pump. I said yes."
"She then told me I have been pumping for so long. She said, “At some point you have to stop right? So you have to train your daughter either to drink formula milk or stop drinking your milk.”"
Gave up on dreams
Sadly, there are mums who also had to give up on their dreams because of the pressures of breastfeeding at work. One mum told us, "I had direct latched my baby since he was born."
"However, when I tried to bottle feed him when he was 3 months+ and my maternity leave was ending, he REFUSED to drink milk. I tried all methods that I had read but he would go on without milk for hours."
"Feeling pity, I decided to give up my job due to this. Not only that, I even lost my dream home (HDB BTO), because I was unable to work."
"I lost major things in my life for this gold I can give my baby. Hope he will grow up well...I hope my future will be better too."
Pumping at work in Singapore: The slowly getting there
There is still some hope though. Many mummies told us that things were slowly changing for the better and progress was being made.
Mummy Edwina Woo revealed, "About 7 years ago when I was doing my internship, I was asked to pump in the toilet as there weren't any rooms for me. I did that using a manual pump and pumped once during lunch time."
"At that time, breastfeeding wasn't a hot topic and awareness was low. Breastfeeding accessories were also limited."
Today things are different, "During my company incentive trip, I combined Freemie with Spectra S9+ and did hands-free pumping underneath a shawl."
"I walked around among my colleagues (old and young, male and female) while pumping, and proudly shared that my ice box was full of breast milk to be checked in!"
And in cases where companies lack infrastructure, at least they are making up with the right attitude and support.
Mummy Lim Xiu Juan Verton shares, "I work in a construction site with minimum facilities. But my bosses and colleagues (most of them are male colleagues) are very supportive toward breastfeeding."
"They helped me to convert one of our meeting rooms to a nursing room by replacing the old faulty lock, and sticking on paper on the glass window for privacy."
"My immediate superior has never asked me to shorten my “milking time” (30 min each session ) and even reminded me to express my milk. She also encouraged me continue to pump when I wanted to stop at my 6 month breastfeeding journey."
Life as a breastfeeding working mum in Singapore doesn't seem easy. And yet, these awesome mummies soldier on, just so that their babies aren't deprived of the "liquid gold" that is breast milk.
We hope workplaces will be able to bring more normalcy to breastfeeding and pumping at work. A happy mum will definitely make for a better, and more productive employee. :)
What say, mums?