A Tesco store recently made the headlines when an employee posted on Facebook about how the company had gone above and beyond contractual obligation to provide her with the facilities to breastfeed her new baby in comfort and privacy.
The feature truly highlighted how important it is to offer support to new mothers at this important stage of parenthood and Tesco has been rightly praised for its efforts. Unfortunately, however, there are just as many cases that show the opposite – from mothers who have been asked to leave restaurants or other public spaces or who have been shamed into thinking that breastfeeding in public is taboo.
Of course, breastfeeding is protected by law – from as far back as the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 which stipulates that breastfeeding mothers should not be harassed or discriminated against in any situation. This has been reinforced more recently in the Equality Act, 2010 which clarifies that a business must not treat any woman who is breastfeeding unfavourably. Indeed, employers must be aware of these stipulations, since they are required, by law, to provide adequate facilities for breastfeeding mothers.
Dental professionals must be particularly considerate of this. In many dental surgeries, space is a rare commodity, so ensuring that there is enough room for a breastfeeding mother – either employee or patient – to rest may be more difficult. The allocated space must be comfortable, private and be large enough to allow the individual to lie down.
Other than the requirements to regularly risk-assess the working environment, however, there is no legal requirement to conduct a specific separate risk assessment for a breastfeeding individual – but a prudent employer may wish to do so, to best provide an environment which is safe and comfortable.
Employers are not required to provide specific areas in which breastfeeding or expressing can take place, nor do they need to provide paid breaks for this purpose. But they must be aware that sometimes the staff room or the waiting room will be inadequate and the toilet facilities are simply inappropriate to breastfeed. Importantly, they must remember that under the Equality Act they cannot provide a service on different terms; meaning you cannot ask a breastfeeding mother to sit somewhere different than your usual waiting room unless there is a safety concern – so it is better overall to make provisions for a comfortable area which meets the specific legislative requirements to avoid any complications or potential dispute.
Not only will this be in keeping with current laws, it will be an effective way to show your support for new mothers – and this can be a particularly powerful tool. Whether it’s online or in person, new mothers will certainly discuss different service environments – your dental practice included – and if you are providing a comfortable, caring environment for them and their babies, they will most likely tell their friends about it. As a way of attracting new patients, new mothers may be a positive place to start.
In this regard, providing appropriate areas for breastfeeding mothers is simply the start – there is a myriad of other opportunities for you to take to strengthen the relationship between your business and new parents. Providing information can be another powerful way of doing so. For example, did you know that is has been show that breastfeeding a child will significantly reduce the risk of dental caries, malocclusion and fluorosis – it is also suggested that breastfeeding will promote optimal jaw and tooth development.[i]
There is also a helpline available in the UK to check the suitability of certain drugs for breastfeeding mothers; Drugs in Breastmilk helpline is contactable through 0844 412 4665 and is an effective way of staying up-to-date on behalf of your patients.
Similarly, it is worth making it clear that mothers are exempt from patient charges under the NHS whilst they are pregnant and throughout the first year of their child’s life.
Taking these steps is a great way of providing an excellent service to everyone – offering effective information as well as a comfortable, appropriate environment for breastfeeding patients and employees will certainly attract positive comments, just as Tesco enjoyed recently.
Goodman Grant Solicitors are the lawyers for dentists in the UK. With nationwide offices and an expert team, they understand the specific issues that dental professionals are beset with on a daily basis. If you need assistance with any of the legal aspects of running a dental business – from how to best cater to breastfeeding mothers to incorporation or employment contracts and tribunals – they can help. As both NASDAL and ASPD members, they know precisely what dental professionals need to run an effective business and will assist in a positive, friendly manner.
Do not risk alienating breastfeeding mothers – make sure you take the right steps to ensure you accommodate their needs just as you would any other.