Note: this blog references the sensitive topic of breastfeeding. As always, we note that no one at the Minimise Project judges what milk you feed your baby and we wholeheartedly endorse every word of this blog post.
It’s National Breastfeeding Week, which runs during the first week in October every year in Ireland. National Breastfeeding Week is a chance for all parents to share their experiences of breastfeeding, good and bad, and to receive support and attention. One area in particular where families can experience particular challenges navigating breastfeeding is when a breastfeeding mother returns to work after maternity leave. For this reason, the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 is a fantastic initiative.
The General Scheme of the Bill has many different provisions, but the one that is relevant for National Breastfeeding Week is the provision that extends the right to take breaks from work in order to breastfeed or pump milk for up to one hour per day until the child is two. Up until now, this right lasted for six months only. The origin of the six months is unclear, but it may be that six months is the latest age at which the HSE recommends that solids be introduced. However, the HSE also recommends that children continue to be breastfed, along with complementary solid food, until at least two years of age, and so terminating breastfeeding breaks at six months was always odd in that context. It was an even stranger cut-off point when we consider that maternity leave is 26 weeks long, with extended maternity leave lasting another sixteen weeks and parents’ leave lasting seven weeks. Thus, the right to take breastfeeding breaks ended before most women would even be back at work.
There are many other parenting and family-friendly initiatives in the Bill. Parents are now entitled to take leave when their child (or other family member) is ill, rather than having leave available only when they themselves are ill. Parents of children up to the age of 12, or the age of 16 where the child has a disability, are also entitled to request flexible working, under the provisions of the Bill. The Bill also includes some provisions around existing categories of leave including maternity and parents’ leave.
In short, this Bill gives legal recognition of the fact that parents cannot be expected to put their lives on hold whenever they are on the clock at work. This might seem like a good and progressive step for society in general, but I’d go further: the kinds of provisions in this Bill are a huge part of what it means to build a pro-life culture. To see why, consider an analogy. Imagine for a minute that everyone else in the world could float up to three metres above the ground, but that you were born unable to do so. What would your life look like? Buildings would probably look different to what they do now: ceilings would be higher, shelves would be higher up, light switches might be placed at ceiling-height. Stairs probably wouldn’t exist; instead there would be a space-saving hole in the ceiling through which people would float up to the next floor. Imagine how inconvenient this would be for you. You’d have to check that any house you visited had a bathroom on the ground floor. You’d have to ask other people to turn on lights or pass you a glass of water. You might have to bring a small stepladder anywhere you went. In short, you’d struggle to exist in a world that assumed that everyone could float, when you, in fact, can’t.
Right now, many workplaces and employers assume that their employees have no children, but this of course is not true for many people. Parents struggle to exist in a world that assumes that no one has children, and these assumptions must play some role (I would argue a very large role) in driving abortion rates. In contrast, a truly pro-life society organises its social and economic structures in such a way that the existence of children is acknowledged, expected and catered for. Does this mean increased hassle and expense for employers? Yes, possibly, or in some cases, probably. But this does not mean that they should not be expected, and, if necessary, incentivised and supported, to cater for the existence of their employees’ children, any less than they should be expected to cater for the fact that their employees need to use the bathroom during the working day. A pro-life culture needs this mindset shift, and the Work Life Balance Bill is a great start in enabling such a shift. Pro-life activists and organisations should come out in full support.