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Enablers and barriers to workplace breastfeeding in the Armed Forces: a systematic review

Abstract

Introduction The UK has no legislation protecting employees’ access to breastfeeding facilities. Without specific breastfeeding policy, provisions to access workplace facilities can be inconsistent and negatively impact employees’ breastfeeding duration, retention and morale, particularly servicewomen who work in varied and demanding military environments. This is an important policy area for the British Army to retain talented and trained soldiers.

Methods Using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses statement principles, PubMed, Embase, CINAHL and Pro-Quest Databases were searched for studies relevant to accessing appropriate breastfeeding facilities in UK workplaces and high-income countries’ Armed Forces. Factors acting as barriers and enablers to accessing facilities were identified. UK government and Armed Forces’ websites were searched for grey literature on existing policies and guidance for accessing facilities.

Results Barriers and enablers to access from 16 studies were described by three thematic areas: attitudes to breastfeeding, facility provisions and use of facilities. Factors which employers could influence included specific breastfeeding policy, universal workplace education, existence of suitable facilities and individualised breastfeeding plans. The key areas for policy development identified were clearly defined responsibilities; individualised risk assessments and breastfeeding plans; appropriate, but flexible, facility provision and access; signposting of relevant workplace accommodations; and physical fitness provisions.

Conclusions Five recommendations are presented: development, implementation and evaluation of breastfeeding policy; universal workplace breastfeeding education; the need for breastfeeding risk assessments and plans based on individual breastfeeding practice; written minimal and ideal standards for breastfeeding facilities and access, which considers workplace locations; and exceptions from deployment and physical fitness testing.

  • public health
  • reproductive medicine
  • occupational & industrial medicine
  • health policy

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