Belfast Telegraph

Laws must protect breastfeeding mums

Editor's Viewpoint

The horrific ordeal endured by a Northern Ireland breastfeeding mum in the workplace was reflected in the substantial £55,000 compensation award made to her in an out-of-court settlement. She had sued the Prison Service for sex discrimination, bullying and harassment.

Reading the details of the case in our exclusive story today, most people will feel that it was a very deserving award as the woman, who had worked in the Prison Service for 11 years, was driven to self-harm and depression by the attitude of colleagues when she asked to be moved to a more suitable environment within Magilligan Prison.

That was an entirely responsible request as the blocks where she worked were infested with lice and mice and the air polluted with cigarette and drug smoke.

To even the most antediluvian mindset, it must have been obvious that that was no place for a breastfeeding mum to work. It was an unhygienic environment in which to express milk, for example, and obviously she did not take her new baby to work.

She was given permission to move but colleagues took exception and it became a hostile workplace to such an extent that she began cutting herself and feared she might kill herself by accident.

One can understand how prison staff feel under pressure from inmates and that there can be hostility between them, but it beggars belief that colleagues of a woman who had chosen what is still a dangerous career should be the ones to make her life hell - and over this issue.

In other regions of the UK pieces of legislation protect breastfeeding mums from being treated unfavourably.

Breastfeeding is not some esoteric lifestyle choice for new mums, but the recommended way to give their babies the best start in life, and it is time this was recognised by way of statute in Northern Ireland.

Mums returning to work after maternity leave can face a number of problems from unreconstructed employers, but most of those have legal remedies. These need to be extended to ensure that breastfeeding mums do not feel frowned upon either in public or in the workplace. It is surely one of the most natural acts any new mother can perform.

Those who drove this woman to give up the job she loved - and to jeopardise her life - should hang their heads in shame, and the Prison Service must take on board the lessons from this case.

Belfast Telegraph

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