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‘Are you looking to return to work right after maternal leave? Then I guess you will not be nursing?’ Those are comments that I have heard from most everyone I have spoken to about my returning to work. And every time they were taken aback by my response. Before we get started, I would like to say this: Nursing is a highly sensitive topic that is also a very personal matter. This personal report is not meant to give advice on nursing or its alternatives or when the best time is to return to work. What I am looking to do is show how you can work and continue to nurse if you want to do both. I am writing this post because I was unable to find any personal accounts from people who had gone through the same situation I was now going through.

Related regulations

The regulations on nursing at the workplace are set forth in the Protection of Mothers Law (Mutterschutzgesetz) and in the Workplace Ordinance (Arbeitsstättenverordnung). To begin with, it is important to know that even after you return from your standard eight weeks of maternity leave after having given birth, the same legal protections that you enjoyed when you notified your employee that you were pregnant continue to apply. This includes the following:

  • 1. The employer is required to grant a female employee leave from work for the time necessary to undergo medical examinations as part of the services provided by statutory health insurance during her pregnancy and after giving birth. The same also applies for a female employee who is not covered by statutory health insurance.
  • 2. The employer is required to grant a female employee who is nursing time off from work on her request for the time necessary to nurse during the first 12 months after giving birth, at least twice a day for half an hour or once a day for one hour. When working for more than eight hours uninterrupted, the female employee must be given at least two 45-minute breaks at her request to nurse or, if no facilities are available where she can nurse close to her workplace, at least one 90-minute break to nurse. Working time is considered uninterrupted if it is not interrupted by a break of more than two hours

Under the legal protections afforded to working mothers, an employee who is pregnant or nursing may not work for longer than 8.5 hours a day.

Furthermore, the Workplace Ordinance sets out what a suitable nursing room should look like.

1. If a company employs pregnant women or nursing mothers, it must provide facilities and furnishings for lying down, resting and nursing at the workplace or in the immediate vicinity in a sufficient number to ensure one is available at all times. Privacy must be guarantee when making use of the facilities.

2. The facilities and furnishings for lying down, resting and nursing must be padded and equipped with a washable or disposable covering.

The room must meet the following requirements:

  • Min. six square meters
  • Ambient noise level: 55 dB
  • No disturbances or disruptions
  • Visual contact (window) to the outside; there are comparable mandatory requirements for break rooms in regional building codes
  • Sufficient amount of natural light/sufficient lighting
  • A room temperature that is conducive to health of at least +21°C up to a target temperature of +26°C
  • Air quality conductive to health, for example, through the use of a ventilation or air conditioning system
  • Privacy must be guaranteed during the time the room is used

In a nutshell, a bathroom or dark (storage) room is not a suitable space and is not a solution that may be offered. These are mandatory requirements that the employer must meet when designing the workplace.

Nursing at adesso

It quickly became clear that there were only a few rooms at the Dortmund office that meet these requirements. Open-space offices and work areas are simply not suitable for nursing at the workplace. Open conference rooms may be great for a meeting, but they are not practical for nursing. There are also other requirements besides those listed above. It would be very helpful if there was a sink close to (or even in) the room for cleaning the nursing equipment. Another practical idea would be to set up a separate nursing room, where the equipment can be kept and the breast milk can be stored discretely and at a cool, constant temperature in a separate refrigerator to ensure it is not manipulated by other employees.

This room could be used to store an (electric) breast pump, but also other supplies such as (wet) wipes and a change of clothes. It also ensures greater flexibility when an employee wishes to nurse. There may be cases where an employee needs more time or receives a call and is running a few minutes late for her appointment to use the nursing room. If you had to book a room, there may not be enough time until the next available room is free. You would also have to carry a large bag back and forth. Another plus is that the room could be locked at any time to ensure no one accidentally walks in.

Is a parent-child office a good alternative?

Parent-child offices are more of a make-shift solution than a long-term option. For one, parents and nursing mothers would be competing to use the room if both wanted to do so at the same time. A nursing mother might also be forced to explain why she is not using the room for its intended purpose because she is in there even though she does not have her child with her. It is also difficult to plan if someone else is already using the office. In some cases, privacy cannot be guaranteed at all times. This could create stress and raise questions such as: where can I store my things, where can I change, would I have to walk through the office with all my clothes and nursing equipment if something were to go wrong. And those are just a few of the thoughts that could go through you head. In the end, this all adds to your mental load.

Beyond that, the nursing mother is physically separated from her child in the parent-baby office, but that does not mean she is not think about him or her. To give an example, a nursing mother might be at work in the ‘nursery’ with all her kid’s things while constantly be reminded of the fact that she is not with him or her. This could be a mental load, especially in the first months after going back to work.

My personal experience

When I am at work, I want my role to be that of an employee not a mother. In my case, working from home was not an option, so we found a solution that did not involve a parent-child office. I want to focus on my work, nurse my child, be able to plan my day and keep the amount of planning I need to do to a minimum.

It was important for me to find a solution that works for everyone and not face the dilemma of having to make the choice to wean because I feel uneasy with the situation. This would have been an added burden that I would not have been comfortable with.

I used the parent-child office for a short time. However, because it was easy to see in from the outside, I sat there with the blinds down even on grey and dreary days. Most of the time I forgot to put them up again, so I would sit there all day without seeing the light of day. Plus, I did not feel comfortable there next to all the toys.

I really enjoy my job, and it was the right choice for me to return to work. But it does affect me emotionally – and of course I miss my child. Sitting in a nursery did not make my return to work any easier.

It was new situation for everyone. But luckily we were able to come up with a great solution for a nursing office. Our office administrators did everything they could to make my re-integration as easy as possible. As it turned out later, there was another plus: the small office has its own heating and I could finally work at a temperature that is comfortable for me. This was also great when it came to nursing. These are all things that you would not have thought about beforehand.

I have to travel a lot for work. At some offices, there is not a single room you cannot look into, except for the toilet. There were other cases where I did not know my way around and had to ask beforehand if there was a room or some other place where I could nurse. When travelling on business, I could have slipped away to the bathroom to avoid having to address the issue. But in my opinion, this is an issue that society needs to address if we want to open the door for nursing mothers to return quickly to work and show them that they are welcome and that they do not have to choose between work and nursing.

All that being said, I have to say that it takes a lot of planning if you decide to go that route. You cannot put off nursing breaks to a later time if your schedule is already full of appointments. That is why I would advise you to roughly block off the times in your calendar before you return to work.

Here is another tip: stock up on breast milk before you return to work. There may be cases where your child is especially hungry, or you have no way to refrigerate your breast milk and have to pour it out, meaning you cannot use it the next day.

At the end of the day, I believe that nursing and working can be compatible. Along with a lot of planning and fortitude, you have to work with your partner and have local contact persons who are open-minded. My partner and I really worked well together, our office management team made my return to work very easy – and the planning and fortitude came automatically. If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to contact me anytime.

You will find more exciting topics from the adesso world in our latest blog posts.

Picture Vivien Emily  Schiller

Author Vivien Emily Schiller

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