expressing in public The last taboo

This is not an actual image of Fiona

On a recent work trip I quickly needed to express milk before heading to a meeting.  I walked off the plane at Sydney Airport and headed for the closest parent room.

The parent room was in a pretty gross state to say the least, but I was not deterred. I began my search for a power point and ended up crouching on the floor of the open area of the bathroom, to be next to the power point, to express.

Not an optimal situation but I was ok with it. Until I became aware that expressing milk in public is not as socially acceptable as breastfeeding.

People that entered the area were clearly taken aback by what I was doing. I was apologetic (as I don’t like the thought of making anyone uncomfortable) but left with little choice of an alternative.  The milk had to come out and I was in a rush and there was literally nowhere else to sit.

But it got me thinking. Surely there are many women that come through this airport every day and need to do exactly this. Couldn’t we do a little better than having to sit on a dirty toilet floor?

And why it is ok to breastfeed your baby in public, but expressing milk is still perceived as a little obscene?

The Australian Government has released the ‘National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010 to 2015’ with the purpose of encouraging more women to feed their babies to 6 months of age and beyond.

The Strategy has merit but unless there is actually some level of government enforcement that sees employers provide breaks to express in the workplace and a location for women to do it, it is pretty useless.

While we would all like to be like Miranda Kerr and have our baby at work with us so that we can breastfeed them on breaks, unfortunately that is completely unworkable for most women that return to work.

I am all for choosing whatever works for each individual when it comes to feeding babies. But if you do want to keep breastfeeding when you return to work it is fraught with logistical and social complications.

Women are already finding it tough enough to go back to the workplace after having a baby because they have to negotiate flexible work arrangements.  To be asking their employer to have breaks to express milk as well is for many women a bridge too far.

With my first baby I expressed milk in some pretty weird and wonderful places -the Prime Minster’s bathroom at Parliament House, the Government jet, delegation rooms at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.  I was able to do that because I was fortunate enough to have a boss that understood and supported the need to take breaks to express milk.

But the reality is that the rate of workplaces in Australia that allow for breastfeeding breaks for their female employees is dismal.

It is pretty obvious that if there were more places to express milk then more women would be able to keep breastfeeding for longer.

While breastfeeding in public is now very commonplace, it feels as though we are a long way from women being able to express milk in public places comfortably and confidently.

The Government would say they have already done so much for women with the introduction of federally funded Paid Parental Leave. Announcing PPL in 2009 was a proud moment for our country, but it does not have anything to do with encouraging women to continue breastfeeding once they are back in the workplace.

If the Australian Government seriously wants to increase the rate of babies that are breastfed to 6 months and beyond then it needs to work with employers to provide facilities and breaks for women that are expressing milk.

I think that would help to make the real difference they are aiming for.

Fiona has been a Labor staffer for the Beattie, Rudd and Gillard Governments. She was Press Secretary to Kevin Rudd for four years. She is 29 and lives in Queensland with her two children.

Have you ever had to express? How have you felt when seeing someone else expressing in public?



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