1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The pregnant body and employment
  5. The newly maternal body and employment
  6. Summary
  7. References

This paper comprehensively reviews transdisciplinary and critical perspectives on the employed maternal (pregnant and post-birth) body in the context of management studies. It highlights the disparities between equal opportunities policies and everyday management practices in relation to pregnancy and new motherhood. In so doing, the review examines the contradictions between equal opportunities policies aimed at protecting pregnant and newly maternal employees and the discouraging treatment that such women receive in practice at work. In analysing the disparity between policy and practice, the review identifies gaps within the field of research on the employed maternal body. It then shows how perceptions about the pregnant and newly maternal body are based more on myth than on evidence. In keeping with policies encouraging family friendly working practices and aimed at enhancing parental health, the paper argues that research on the maternal body is integral to management studies.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The pregnant body and employment
  5. The newly maternal body and employment
  6. Summary
  7. References

This paper reviews the transdisciplinary literature on the interrelations between the management of the ‘maternal’ (pregnant and post-birth) body and women's employment. The review highlights the disparities between equal opportunities policies designed to protect new mothers, and women's everyday workplace experiences. These disparities are identified in the UK Government Report Fairness and Freedom: ‘there is one factor that above all leads to women's inequality in the labour market – becoming mothers’ (Equalities Review 2007, p. 66).

The review is timely because, since the publication of Bryan Turner's seminal text The Body and Society (Turner 1984), theoretical debates about the body and work have become prominent within management, organizational and gender studies (e.g. Acker 2003; Brewis and Linstead 2000; Swan 2005). Within management studies, the employed maternal body has been identified as a discrete and significant site of analysis (Brewis and Warren 2001; Buzzanell and Liu 2007; Gatrell forthcoming; Haynes 2008a,b; Mäkelä 2005, 2009). This is because research consistently identifies contradictions between equal opportunities policies aimed at protecting pregnant and newly maternal employees and the manner in which such women are treated in practice. For example, Acker (2003, p. 56) observes how, in the context of management and organization, women's maternal ‘bodies . . . their ability to procreate, their pregnancy, breastfeeding and childcare . . . are [treated as] suspect, stigmatized and used as grounds for control and exclusion’. Acker's description accords with the widespread contention that pregnant and post-birth bodies are highly visible at work, resulting in lowered employer commitment towards expectant and new mothers (Acker 2003; Blair-Loy 2003; Buzzanell and Liu 2007; Cockburn 2002; El-Sawad et al. 2004; Gatrell 2005, 2007a,b, 2008; Hausman 2004; Haynes 2006a,b, 2008a,b; Hochschild 1997; Mäkelä 2005, 2009). Among management and policy theorists, the correlation between the maternal body and lowered employer commitment raises questions about how, and why, impending motherhood changes the employer/employee relationship and what might be done about this. Such questions provide the rationale for this review.

The paper responds to Buzzanell and Liu's (2007, p. 490) call for management research to ‘examine different accounts of workplace practices, including the treatment of women during pregnancies and maternity leaves’. It provides a systematic account of the literature on the maternal body and employment and, in so doing, offers a platform for future management research on maternity and employment. Transdisciplinarity is a necessary feature of this discussion, because the growing corpus of research on the employed maternal body extends beyond management studies to include a range of disciplinary perspectives and epistemologies, e.g. psychology, health, law, and geographical, sociological and cultural (or what the author terms ‘socio-cultural’) feminist studies. The review synthesizes established and emerging thought regarding the employed maternal body within management studies and associated fields, thus facilitating transdisciplinarity within management scholarship.

The paper reviews the literature in two sections. The first section considers the pregnant body and employment, and the second section deals with the post-birth body and employment.

The pregnant body and employment

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The pregnant body and employment
  5. The newly maternal body and employment
  6. Summary
  7. References

This section first draws upon the management and policy literatures to provide context regarding the core concept of the ‘maternal body’, which is defined here as including pregnancy and new motherhood. The interrelations between the pregnant body and employment are then evaluated from three different disciplinary perspectives. These may be described as management and behavioural, health related and cultural/feminist. Finally, feminist, sociological and cultural theories about the visibility of the employed pregnant body are analysed in the context of debates on the management of the maternal body.

Policy, pregnancy and discrimination

The focus in this review on pregnancy and early motherhood is apposite to management studies because pregnancy and new maternity are central to government policies aimed at preventing gender discrimination (Kohl et al. 2005; Tahmincioglu 2007). In the UK and the USA, impending and new maternity has been consistently identified by scholars and by government agencies as a trigger for what the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) (EOC 2007, p. 19) terms the ‘unfair treatment’ of employed women (Benko and Weisberg 2007; Blair-Loy 2003; Edwards 1996; EOC 2005; Equalities Review 2007; Haynes 2010; James 2007; Kohl et al. 2005; Padavic and Reskin 2002; Rouse and Sappleton 2009). The unjust treatment of pregnant workers is so widespread that it has been described by Mäkelä (2005, p. 50) as ‘commonplace’. In the UK, for example, up to 30,000 pregnant women experience discrimination each year (EOC 2005). The EOC (2005) suggests that pregnant women in managerial roles are especially vulnerable to such unfair treatment: a view which accords with findings by management theorists Buzzanell and Liu (2007), Collinson (2000) El-Sawad et al. (2004), Gatrell (2007a), Halpert et al. (1993), Haynes (2006a, 2008a,b) and Mäkelä (2005, 2009). The present situation where, annually, ‘thousands of pregnant workers are treated unfairly’ (EOC 2007, p. 19) is highlighted in policy literature as an issue which employers must take seriously, not only in relation to retaining female talent but also in terms of avoiding litigation (Kohl et al. 2005; Tahmincioglu 2007).

Evaluating the pregnant employee: management and organizational theory

Looking beyond the numbers of pregnant and newly maternal employees who experience discrimination, the review now moves on to consider how such unequal treatment might be manifested in practice. The discussion begins with an examination of the literature within management and related studies on how, and why, pregnant workers may be treated unfairly at work, starting with the management psychology literature.

Discounting of pregnant women's capabilities.  From the 1990s onwards, research within organizational and behavioural psychology has linked the unfair treatment of pregnant employees with the unreasonably low assessment of pregnant women by colleagues. The suggestion is made that employed pregnant women are often perceived by others to be less competent than non-pregnant women (Corse 1990; Gueutal and Taylor 1991; Halpert et al. 1993). In this regard, Halpert et al. (1993) highlight the way in which the gendered ‘discounting of women's abilities’ (an existing phenomenon previously reported by occupational psychologists Davidson and Cooper (1992)) is ‘exaggerated when women are pregnant’ (Halpert et al. 1993, 65). Similarly, Gueutal and Taylor (1991) have shown how workers' assumptions about pregnant colleagues' capabilities can lead to the exclusion of pregnant employees from influential team projects because pregnancy is believed, by other workers, to reduce productivity and lower the performance of whole groups.

The discounting of pregnant women's capabilities is starkly illustrated within Corse's (1990) study on psychological tests. In this research (as well as that of Gueutal and Taylor 1991 and Halpert et al. 1993), it is shown how the workplace effectiveness of pregnant managers is evaluated on the basis of their pregnant bodies, rather than the nature of their performance. In Corse's (1990) study, pregnancy was imagined by assessors to reduce women's intellectual and managerial competencies, and thereby to lessen their management capability in comparison with non-pregnant workers. At the same time, it was supposed (by both male and female assessors), that pregnant managers ought to demonstrate qualities that accorded with idealized notions of mothers as gentle and selfless, as described by Miller (2005) and Haynes (2008a). Thus, pregnant women in the study were expected to appear more sympathetic and nurturing than non-pregnant women. As a consequence, firm and decisive behaviour was negatively assessed, and pregnant managers who displayed resolution and clarity in decision-making were evaluated harshly as controlling and authoritarian (Corse 1990). Such criticisms were not applied to men and non-pregnant women workers whose behaviour was clear and decisive.

Significantly, although assessors in studies by Corse (1990), Gueutal and Taylor (1991) and Halpert et al. (1993) believed pregnancy to be an indicator of lowered performance, the data with which assessors were presented did not bear this out. For example, in Halpert et al.'s (1993) study, evaluations of women's performance were seen to have ‘plummeted after pregnancy’ (p. 650), yet the study yielded no material evidence to substantiate these views, which the authors conclude were unfounded.

The ‘emotional’ pregnant manager.  If pregnant workers are assessed negatively in comparison with non-pregnant workers, the question is raised as to why this should be the case. Halpert et al. (1993) propose a belief that low assessments of pregnant women's performance may be linked to employers' fears that pregnancy renders women more emotional than usual, this leading to assumptions that pregnant workers are incapable of sound judgement. Drawing upon the findings from their study, Halpert et al. (1993) observe how: ‘Pregnant women were viewed’ (by women and men, but more significantly by men) ‘as overly emotional, often irrational, physically limited and less than committed to their jobs. They were not seen as valued or dependable employees’ (Halpert et al. 1993, p. 655).

The notion that pregnant women may be regarded by others as ‘emotional’ is also highlighted by Haynes (2006a, p. 402) whose research on accounting, the maternal body and identity unpacks differences in criteria between how women may be assessed as ‘good’ mothers and how they are measured as ‘good’ accountants. Haynes (2006a, p. 402) observes how ‘good mothers’ are expected to embody nurturing and emotionally attuned qualities. Thus, a mother may be assessed by society on her ability (or otherwise) to ‘immerse herself in the emotional’ as well as the technical aspects of childcare. Conversely, according to Haynes, a ‘good’ accountant is regarded as one who appears ‘emotionally distant and objective’. It would appear, then, that the requirements of ‘good’ mothering and ‘good’ accounting are hard to reconcile.

We cannot be sure that what applies in the accounting office is applicable elsewhere. However, it seems worth considering Haynes's (2006a) notion that pregnant workers may concurrently be measured as employees and as mothers during studies designed to rate workplace performance. Haynes's hypothesis could explain Corse's (1990) findings that pregnant women who exhibit clear decision-making skills (as opposed to nurturing qualities) are seen as domineering and dictatorial, rather than being rewarded for their decisive rationality. Arguably, if official evaluations of pregnant employees' workplace performance are combined with unarticulated assessments of how pregnant women are performing motherhood, pregnant workplace performance will receive a consistently low rating, regardless of how well individual pregnant women function in tests. Such a hypothesis raises important issues in relation to human resource management and workplace practices – from the perspective of employers as well as pregnant women – not least because (as Cooper and Davidson 1982 observed almost thirty years ago) the discounting of women's abilities can cause stress, which may in turn lead to sickness absence. This suggests the need to develop new research building on existing studies by Corse (1990), Gueutal and Taylor (1991) and Halpert et al. (1993) in order to understand better (and perhaps challenge) the reasons behind negative assessments of pregnant women's performance. Such new research could take a qualitative approach similar to that of Haynes (2006a, p. 399), in which the author does not claim objectivity, but instead ‘examines the subjective experience of accountants’ from an ‘interpretative’, biographical perspective.

Pregnant employees and low work orientation.  Employers' assumptions that pregnant workers may be less competent than non-pregnant employees are often accompanied by presumptions that women's work orientation is lowered when they become pregnant. Lyness et al. (1999) have observed how suppositions regarding the low work orientation of pregnant employees are unsupported by evidence. However, Mäkelä's studies of pregnancy and management (Mäkelä 2005, 2009) and those of Acker (2003), Collinson (2000), Cunningham and Macen (2007), Gatrell (2005, 2007a) and Haynes (2006a,b, 2008a,b) all demonstrate how impending motherhood is associated, by employers, with a supposed reduction in women's employment orientation. Employers' anxieties about pregnant women's commitment to employment run very deep (Acker 2003). Such views have been expressed within the public domain not only by leading employers, but also by influential organizations which lobby for employers' interests, such as the UK's Institute of Directors (Lea 2001; Malthouse 1997).

Employers' presumptions that pregnancy hails a fall in women's work orientation accord with the views of social economist Catherine Hakim (1995, 1996, 2000), who links maternity with a drop in women's work orientation. Hakim's hypothesis has been challenged on the basis that her quantitative studies fail to acknowledge the complexities of the financial and behavioural constraints imposed on employed mothers/mothers-to-be (Gatrell 2005; Ginn et al. 1996). Management and feminist scholars have disputed the link between motherhood and low work orientation, arguing that paid work remains central to the social and personal identity of many mothers and pregnant women (Blair-Loy 2003; Davidson and Cooper 1992; Gatrell 2005; Hochschild 1997; Singh and Vinnicombe 2004; Sorenson 1994; Williams 1999).

Potential sickness absence: maternal health and the ‘unreliable’ pregnant body.  The management literature shows how employers' anxieties around pregnancy go beyond unspecified fears about women's supposedly lowered work orientation, extending to worries that pregnancy might disrupt workplace routines. Mäkelä's (2009) research on LMX theory and pregnancy, for example, reports that pregnant workers' impending maternity leave may be resented by supervisors, even if employees were highly valued prior to pregnancy. According to Acker (2003), Buzzanell and Liu (2007), Collinson (2000), James (2007) and Mäkelä (2005), line managers' fears that pregnancy could disrupt routines also encompass worries about potential sickness absence. Some employers are anxious that pregnant employees may prove less dependable than before, because the pregnant body is assumed to be more prone to illness than other bodies. Pregnant employees may therefore be treated by employers as if they are potentially unreliable (Acker 2003; Cockburn 2002; Collinson 2000). Employers' perceptions about unreliability are exacerbated by fears about corporate costs, should pregnant employees become ill and cover be required (Edwards 1996). Edwards (1996, p. 250), writing about pregnancy discrimination and law, observes how employers' ‘imperatives’ regarding efficiency, productivity and cost ‘collide with employers’ beliefs about the effects of pregnancy on a worker's ability and willingness to fulfil her work obligations'.

The notion that employers presume an association between pregnancy and ill health is corroborated within the policy literature. The UK EOC has found that employers connect pregnancy with illness, unreliability, poor performance and workplace absence (EOC 2005), a finding which is substantiated across disciplines: for example gender (Acker 2003), sociology (Warren and Brewis 2004) and law (James 2007). Surprisingly, however, given the strength of employers' assumptions (Malenfant 2009), management research gives scant attention to what ‘evidence’ exists regarding the health status and reliability of pregnant employees. In order to introduce to management studies the debates on health, pregnancy and employment, two studies which examine whether employed pregnant women are more or less likely than other groups to take sick leave are now analysed (Bonde et al. 2004; Lindsay 2004).

There exists within health literature a wealth of scholarship on health in pregnancy, most of which is written from a biomedical perspective. This literature highlights the health of employed pregnant women as important owing to the growing number of women who continue paid work during pregnancy (Baker 1999; Cooklin et al. 2007; Denney et al. 2008; Higgins et al. 2002; Lindsay 2004; Orr et al. 2007; Taylor and Baker 1997; Walker et al. 2001). However, while attitudes and beliefs about pregnancy, health and employment are widely debated across disciplines (Acker 2003; Collinson 2000; EOC 2005; Haynes 2008a; Malenfant 2009; Mullin 2005; Warren and Brewis 2004) few studies examine the health status of pregnant employees in comparison with that of non-pregnant women. Where studies do attempt to evaluate sickness levels among pregnant women in comparison with other groups, they conclude that pregnancy-related sickness rates are hard to measure. This is due to the difficulties of defining pregnancy-related sickness absence in the context of more general ill health. Thus, for example, although, Bonde et al. (2004) identified sickness absence to be more prevalent among heavily pregnant nurses than in other groups of women workers, these absences were linked to previous, pre-pregnancy episodes of ill health. So, for example, pregnant nurses with an existing history of back pain, who undertook heavy lifting during late pregnancy, were more likely to take sick leave than non-pregnant women. Bonde et al. (2004) thus concluded that, among some heavily pregnant workers, sickness absence levels were slightly higher than the norm. However, they observed that had employers taken account of women's pre-pregnancy health status, they could have enhanced women's well-being by alleviating lifting duties during late pregnancy. Importantly then, from an employer perspective, the possibility is raised that a proactive approach towards understanding the health issues faced by pregnant workers might help prevent sickness absences (Bonde et al. 2004).

Taking further the hypothesis that pregnancy-related sickness is difficult to classify, health geographer Lindsay (2004) suggests that health in pregnancy is influenced by a range of variables, making it difficult to specify whether employed pregnant women are ill in comparison with other groups. Lindsay suggests that pregnant women in male-dominated work environments experience more prenatal health problems than women in female-dominated workspaces, a hypothesis which is borne out by Longhurst's (2008) qualitative study. Neither Lindsay (2004) nor Longhurst (2008) claims to understand fully the apparent correlations between good health in pregnancy and female-dominated workplaces, and both indicate the need for further research. Such research could take the form of a quantitative approach to test Lindsay's (2004) hypothesis which, if proven, could be followed up by qualitative research investigating how female-dominated work environments contribute to improved maternal health in pregnancy.

On the basis of the studies by Bonde et al. (2004), Lindsay (2004) and Longhurst (2008), the relationship between pregnancy and increased sickness absence thus appears to be complex. Plainly, existing research on the sickness absence rates of pregnant employees compared with other groups of workers is limited, meaning that employers' assumptions about poor health and supposed unreliability among pregnant employees are based on scant evidence. This opens up an important opportunity for integrated and transdisciplinary research across the arenas of management and health care, in which the health of a cohort of pregnant and non-pregnant women could be measured as part of a major cross-sectional or longitudinal study, with suitable adjustments for confounding factors. This would be a serious undertaking, especially considering the difficulties of differentiating pregnancy-related illness from other categories of ill health. However, given the emphasis within health studies on the effects of employment on the health of pregnant women, this project would seem apposite. From a management perspective, the results of such a study would offer employers and scholars a greater understanding of the rates of sickness absence among pregnant and non-pregnant women and – perhaps more importantly – could help identify what preventive measures may be taken to avert health problems among pregnant workers, thereby reducing the potential for sickness absence.

Pregnant workers and presenteeism.  Interestingly, while the prevalence of pregnancy-related sickness absence remains unquantified, qualitative research studies within the socio-cultural and feminist literatures report how employed pregnant women often remain present at work despite feeling ill. This strand of socio-cultural research focuses on the management of the embodied self, and it highlights the determination among some pregnant women to remain at work despite nausea, exhaustion and other symptoms (Buzzanell and Liu 2007; Gatrell forthcoming; Haynes 2008a; Longhurst 2001; Warren and Brewis 2004). Such behaviour, which the author terms ‘pregnant presenteeism’, may be due to a fear among pregnant employees that sickness absence (or any admission of ill health) could damage their reputation as reliable and competent workers (Gatrell forthcoming). Brewis and Warren (2001, p. 385) emphasize in particular the pressures placed upon employed women to appear to be managing pregnancy within the workplace setting as if it were a ‘controllable, linear process’, although women may themselves be experiencing pregnancy as a messy and unpredictable process.

Biomedical views of the maternal body as prone to breakdown.  If employed pregnant women are keen to present an image of health and reliability at work, one might question why employers should regard the pregnant body as potentially unhealthy and unreliable. Perhaps employers' fears about sickness among pregnant workers are influenced by the practice, within biomedical research contexts, of framing the pregnant body as unreliable (Nettleton 2006). It is observed within feminist scholarship how the maternal body is described within biomedicine as fragile, and prone to failure (Kitzinger 2005; Nettleton 2006; Oakley 1984; Pollock 1999; Rich 1977). Arguably, the biomedical concept of pregnancy as a ‘condition’ which deviates from ‘normal’ health (Young 2005) spills over into everyday management practices, influencing employers' perceptions of pregnant employees as susceptible to ill health. This hypothesis suggests that employers' negative evaluation of pregnant employees' health is related more to perceptions about pregnancy sickness than to any research-based evidence.

Socio-cultural views and the maternal body

Whether pregnant women are more likely to be absent from work than non-pregnant women is uncertain. However, it is apparent from socio-cultural and management literatures (especially within feminist research), that the pregnant body itself acutely differentiates employed women from their non-pregnant (male and female) colleagues (Buzzanell and Liu 2007; Gatrell 2007a; Haynes 2008a,b; Longhurst 2001, 2008; Malenfant 2009; Tyler 2000). The review now demonstrates how, despite years of legislation intended to protect pregnant women and new mothers from discrimination, the employed maternal body is often treated as unwelcome at work. Literature which examines women's employment from a feminist perspective has shown how, especially in managerial contexts, the non-pregnant woman's body already stands out from what Hausman (2004, p. 276) terms the ‘norms of male embodiment’. In order to fit in with these norms, employed women are generally expected to keep their reproductive characteristics ‘off-stage’ (Hopfl and Hornby Atkinson 2000, pp. 138−139), a challenge which is particularly difficult to achieve during pregnancy (Haynes 2008a; Longhurst 2001; Warren and Brewis 2004). Pregnant women may be made to feel ‘out of place’ at work (Gatrell 2008; Longhurst 2001, p. 62) owing to employers' anxieties about the unpredictable nature of the pregnant body (Haynes 2008a). This is because pregnancy ‘belies the modern Western conviction that we possess our own bodies and are able to mould them accordingly’, pregnant women's lack of ‘jurisdiction over their bodies’ appearance and demeanour' causing workplace colleagues, and sometimes pregnant women themselves, to feel anxious and uncomfortable (Haynes 2008a, p. 329). Research which focuses on the physical and material changes associated with pregnancy, on the interrelations between pregnancy and employment, and on the notion that pregnant bodies incite emotional responses of fear and revulsion among others is a growing theme within socio-cultural research. It is to this literature on the body and work which the review now turns.

Although feminist and socio-cultural debates around the ‘leaky’ maternal body and employment have begun to emerge within management research (Buzzanell and Liu 2007; Gatrell 2007a; Haynes 2006a,b, 2008a,b), many such studies are located outside the management field. This omission requires attention, because socio-cultural perspectives offer new explanations for the unfair treatment of pregnant and newly maternal employees at work (for example, regarding low workplace assessments of pregnant women's competencies).

Socio-cultural research on pregnancy and employment represents a shift away from the psychological and policy studies discussed earlier. Within this literature, the unpredictability of the employed pregnant body is shown to be a source of anxiety among employers, colleagues and pregnant women themselves (Gatrell 2008; Kitzinger 2005; Longhurst 2001; Martin 1989; Shildrick 1997; Tyler 2000; Warren and Brewis 2004; Young 2005). In particular, employers are seen to be fearful of the potential for pregnant bodies to ‘leak’, to change shape and to produce liquids such as tears, blood and breast milk, all of which threaten to disrupt workplace routines. Pregnant women thus find themselves under pressure to hide their changing bodies, with particular reference to body size and liquids (Brewis and Warren 2001; Gatrell 2008; Longhurst 2001; Warren and Brewis 2004).

‘Leakage’ and the pregnant body at work.  The pressures on women to control the ‘liquid’ symptoms of pregnancy within workplaces have contributed to a core socio-cultural feminist debate around the notion of the ‘leaky’ maternal body (Gatrell 2007a,b, 2008; Grosz 1994; Hausman 2004; Hopfl and Hornby Atkinson 2000; Longhurst 2001, 2008; Martin 1989; Puwar 2004; Tyler 2000; Warren and Brewis 2004). Within this socio-cultural context, the notion of pregnancy ‘leakage’ is debated from both a metaphorical and a literal perspective. Metaphorically, employers are seen to fear that pregnant women may be irrational and hormonal, with emotions which threaten to spill over or ‘leak’ into the workplace setting, perhaps even materially in the form of tears (Hopfl and Hornby Atkinson 2000; Warren and Brewis 2004). Literally within the socio-cultural debate, the concept of pregnancy ‘leakage’ is analysed in relation to employers' and others' fearful responses to the ‘liquid’ symptoms of pregnancy such as sickness, bleeding, breast milk and the potential for waters to break (Grosz 1994; Martin 1989; Tyler 2000; Warren and Brewis 2004). Longhurst (2001, p. 41) describes vividly how ‘the enlarging of the breasts . . . the swelling of the stomach, the threat of the body leaking fluids and splitting itself in two’ may be a source of anxiety and opprobrium among employers.

Fear and disgust: the ‘leaky’ pregnant body as ‘alien’.  The supposedly ‘leaky’ maternal bodies of pregnant women are thus said to ‘invoke suspicion’ and fear (Longhurst 2001, p. 41) among some employers and colleagues, who may regard maternity as symbolic of women's ‘inherent lack of control of [their] bodies and . . . of themselves’ (Longhurst 2001, p. 41). As a consequence, despite the existence of longstanding policies to protect pregnant women from unfair treatment at work (King 2003; Kohl et al. 2005), research suggests that many employers would prefer to keep the employed pregnant body out of the workplace altogether (Longhurst 2001).

Extending the argument that the ‘leaky’ pregnant body is unwelcome, some cultural feminists assert that pregnancy incites revulsion in the workplace to the point where pregnant bodies are treated as literally ‘alien’ (Longhurst 2001, 2008; Tyler 2000). In this view, pregnant women are treated, at work, as a source of disgust as their bodies labour to develop another body in the uterus, while concurrently performing managerial tasks. The consequent desire, among some employers, to exclude the pregnant body from workplace space is apparent. For example (although it is acknowledged here that many employers would be more circumspect), it is reported by legal scholar James (2007, p. 167) that one pregnant employee was dismissed on the grounds that her employers did not want ‘a pregnant split arsed cow’ working in their office.

Similarly, in an autobiographical account, Tyler (2000) describes how her own pregnant body was treated as ‘alien’ within an academic setting. Tyler (2000, p. 290) acknowledges both her own and others' fear at the prospect that her ‘massive’, ‘leaky’ pregnant body might ‘split apart’ and ‘pour [it]self onto the floor in bits’. Tyler's (2000, p. 290) view of her own pregnant body as ‘not metaphor, but real alien’ highlights the difficulties, for pregnant employees, of attempting to foreground their proficiencies as workers while concurrently losing ‘control of their body's shape and its behaviour’ (Warren and Brewis 2004, p. 223) to the point where they are regarded – and sometimes treated – as ‘alien’ (Tyler 2000).

These insights from social and cultural theorists provide an alternative set of concepts through which to analyse the reasons for pregnancy discrimination. The concept of the pregnant employee as ‘alien’ may go some way towards providing a theoretical explanation for the negative (but apparently unsubstantiated) evaluation of pregnant performance within the workplace setting. In research terms, further development of socio-cultural research on the maternal body and employment within management studies would facilitate fresh understandings of how far discrimination against pregnant workers and new mothers may be related to the emotions of fear and revulsion: in other words, to what I have termed the ‘abjuration’ of the maternal body in the workplace (Gatrell forthcoming). Management reflection on employers' attitudes towards the maternal body, from the perspectives of cultural beliefs and practices, might assist in achieving change. Through the work of Haynes (2008a,b, 2010) Gatrell (2007a, 2008) and Warren and Brewis (2004), the door has been opened for fresh and critical debate to take place within management scholarship in relation to emotional attitudes towards the maternal body. Additional management research on the socio-cultural aspects of maternal bodies and employment might also help to achieve a situation where equal opportunities ideals extend beyond policy, with employed pregnant women and new mothers treated fairly at work, in practice.

The newly maternal body and employment

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The pregnant body and employment
  5. The newly maternal body and employment
  6. Summary
  7. References

It might be imagined, once babies are born and the maternal body is no longer hosting another body within itself, that the workplace experiences of new mothers would improve. However, evidence from the policy, management and socio-cultural literature suggests that this is not so, new mothers faring little better than pregnant employees, especially if they work part time. Unfortunately, the return to work following birth and the end of maternity leave does not always signal a consequent rise in the performance rating of new mothers. In order to illustrate the argument that women's performance ratings slide at the onset of motherhood, Halpert et al. (1993) quote one woman manager who found that: ‘once I had my child . . . in (my boss's eyes) my rating went from “superb” . . . to “terrible”’.

This section highlights debates relating to the newly maternal body and the return to work following maternity leave. It begins by discussing the literature on reduced employer commitment to new mothers, much of which is written from the theoretical base of management theory and organizational psychology, rather than from a socio-cultural perspective. It then returns to socio-cultural feminist ideas as it focuses on the post-birth maternal body: specifically breastfeeding and employment. It is observed how the well-publicized and substantiated health benefits of breastfeeding for maternal and infant health are often ignored by employers, who offer little support to breastfeeding mothers. Finally, this section considers the treatment of the employed, post-birth body from the perspectives of ‘good’ mothering, class and work orientation.

Reduced employer commitment to employees post-birth

Studies demonstrating reduced employer commitment to the careers of women with infant children have been well documented within organizational psychology (Davidson and Cooper 1992; Desmarais and Alksnis 2005; Eagly and Karau 2002) and within management studies more broadly (Acker 2003; Blair-Loy 2003; Gatrell 2005, 2008; Pringle 1998; Williams 1999). Writing from different epistemological perspectives, the above research all demonstrates how women's career progress may stall once they become mothers, especially if they are working in managerial or professional roles. The UK's EOC has suggested that, where one-fifth of new mothers overall experience discrimination, this figure rises to one-third among women managers/professionals (EOC 2005). The idea that discrimination affects managers with infant children is certainly borne out in qualitative studies by, for example, Gatrell (2005), Hochschild (1997) and Pringle (1998).

Discrimination and class.  However, it is possible that the correlation between increased incidence of discrimination and high employment status should be viewed with some caution. This is because, while many qualitative studies on new mothers and employment focus on women in professional and managerial roles, research which includes the experience of mothers in less prestigious jobs (e.g. Cockburn 2002; Martin 1989) indicates that working class mothers may be just as likely as managers to experience unfair treatment. In her study on maternity leave and employment, Cockburn (2002) addresses the problems facing mothers in a range of organizational roles, including shop work. She observes how new mothers in subordinate roles are seen to be a ‘severe nuisance’, their post-birth bodies being censured as bringing into the workplace: ‘an unwelcome domestic odour, a whiff of kitchen and nursery’ (Cockburn 2002, p. 185). Cockburn's observations regarding mothers in ‘ordinary’ jobs are similar to the observations in the literature on women managers and maternity, which suggest that the career progress of ‘senior’ women is hampered by motherhood (Davidson and Cooper 1992; Gatrell 2005; Hochschild 1997; Longhurst 2001; Pringle 1998; Singh and Vinnicombe 2004).

Furthermore, research by Boswell-Penc and Boyer (2007), Gatrell (2005) and Mahon (1998) indicates that analyses of ‘unfair treatment’ in relation to job status are complex, and quantitative studies may fail to capture subtle differences between the situations of employed mothers in managerial roles and those in unskilled jobs. For example, the point is made by Mahon (1998) that low-income women may be excluded from opportunities in the labour market due to the practical and financial costs of providing appropriate child care. Arguably, at whatever level mothers are employed, the debate about how new mothers experience employment is most sharply circumscribed for those who wish to breastfeed up to and beyond the first year of children's lives.

Breastfeeding and employment

The issue of breastfeeding and employment is considered to be of great consequence within a range of disciplines and the literature covering this topic is extensive. However, most debates on employment and the newly maternal, breastfeeding body take place outside the arena of management studies. Generally speaking, considerations of breastfeeding and employment may be found in journals relating to health and medicine, sociology, health geography and women's and cultural studies (Bailey and Pain 2001; Earle 2002; Galtry 1997; Gatrell 2007b; Giles 2004; Guendelman et al. 2009; Hausman 2004; Murphy 2003; Ortiz et al. 2004; Shaw 2004; Witters-Green 2003; Wolf 2006). Research on breastfeeding and employment is only now beginning to edge its way into journals conventionally associated with management (e.g. Haynes 2006a). As a result, a significant proportion of this growing body of research is not immediately accessible to management scholars because it is played out within arenas external to management studies.

This significant omission is addressed here for three reasons. First, while it could be claimed that the benefits of breastfeeding for infant and maternal health are social issues, it is asserted that employers and management researchers have a responsibility to consider the health of employees and their families. This assertion is in keeping with the present growth in research and policy on family friendly employment practices, which aims to improve the health and well-being of parents in the workplace (Gatrell and Cooper 2008). Second, if the research evidence on breastfeeding duration is to be believed, breastfeeding enhances maternal and infant health, this reducing the likelihood of maternal sickness absence when children are under two years. Third, as Hausman (2004, p. 283) suggests, mothers' right to combine breastfeeding and employment should extend beyond arguments about maternal and infant health benefits. Rather, such arguments could relate to what Hausman terms the feminist politics of motherhood. In this view, new mothers would be freed from the pressures of trying to integrate their maternal bodies with the ‘norms of male embodiment at work’ and should be assisted in managing breastfeeding and other aspects of early motherhood without facing hostility for disturbing workplace routines.

On the basis of these three arguments, this review now draws into the management arena a range of perspectives around breastfeeding and employment. The issue of employment and breastfeeding is foregrounded within health literature, owing first to the relationship between breastfeeding and improved maternal and infant health and, second, to the apparent conflict between the priorities of employers and health agencies (Boswell-Penc and Boyer 2007; Gatrell 2007b; Hausman 2004; Murphy 2003; Wolf 2006). This conflict is caused because employers expect new mothers to foreground paid work on their return from maternity leave, keeping the embodied nature of new maternity (and especially breastfeeding) firmly in the background (Bailey and Pain 2001; Hausman 2004; Hopfl and Hornby Atkinson 2000; Ortiz et al. 2004; Witters-Green 2003; Wolf 2006). Conversely, health agencies urge mothers to prioritize breastfeeding above all other commitments, including paid work, minimally for one year and preferably continuing into the second year of children's lives (Berger et al. 2005; McIntyre et al. 2002; Ortiz et al. 2004; Witters-Green 2003; Wolf 2006).

Health agencies' desire to increase breastfeeding duration rates is intense and stems from health evidence indicating that breastfeeding offers significant, long-term health benefits for both maternal and child health (Berger et al. 2005; Galtry 1997; Raymond 2005; Wolf 2006). Research into the effectiveness of breastfeeding promotion shows that individual women of all ages and classes know about the health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and children (Bailey and Pain 2001; Earle 2002; Murphy 2003). Nevertheless, relatively few women in the UK and USA breastfeed beyond the first few months of babies' lives, and certainly not beyond the first year (Bailey and Pain 2001; Earle 2002; Murphy 2003).

Breastfeeding duration rates and employment status.  Increasingly, within the health and cultural studies literature, maternal cessation of breastfeeding is discussed in the context of maternal employment (Galtry 1997; Hausman 2004; Wolf 2006). For example, Boswell-Penc and Boyer (2007) observe how only 10% of employed mothers in the USA are still breastfeeding six months after birth, as opposed to 30% of ‘stay at home’ mothers. Much of the literature on breastfeeding and employment is written from a health and/or feminist perspective. This literature suggests that, for some mothers, the move from breast to formula milk occurs in line with maternal preference. However, some women switch from breast to formula milk before they feel ready to do so, in response to a range of pressures discussed below (Bailey and Pain 2001; Gatrell 2007b; Murphy 2003).

The literature on breastfeeding and employment acknowledges that maternal motivation to cease or to continue breastfeeding is complex. Maternal decisions to switch from breast to formula milk may relate to a range of social factors, such as the disapproval experienced by women who are seen breastfeeding older infants in public (Gatrell 2007b). Nevertheless, the literature focusing specifically on the relationship between breastfeeding and management makes the claim that, on returning to work after maternity leave, many employed mothers who were previously breastfeeding successfully give up because they consider the prospect of managing their lactating bodies in the workplace (especially leakage, and the expressing and storing of milk) to be unmanageable (Bailey and Pain 2001; Boswell-Penc and Boyer 2007; Gatrell 2007b; Haynes 2006a). Maternal reluctance to combine breastfeeding with employment is thus related (especially within feminist health research) to discouraging attitudes among employers (Bailey and Pain 2001; Galtry 1997; Gatrell 2007b; Hausman 2004; McKinlay and Hyde 2004; Ortiz et al. 2004; Witters-Green 2003; Wolf 2006).

Often, the potential desire among employed mothers to breastfeed infants or to express milk at work is either ignored or actively discouraged by employers (Bailey and Pain 2001; Boswell-Penc and Boyer 2007). Women who do breastfeed at work are likely to find that health advice about the benefits of breastfeeding beyond the first year is ignored by employers (if they are aware of it at all) and that the obligation is on employees (rather than employers) to make space and time for this: ‘It is up to you to work out where to pump, where to chill and store your milk and how to schedule work breaks that coincide with let-down times’ (Boswell-Penc and Boyer 2007, p. 561). Few employers are seen to offer breast-pumping or feeding breaks and few offer a suitable space for breastfeeding infants or expressing milk (Giles 2004; Hausman 2004). Thus, mothers without private office accommodation who try to combine paid work with breastfeeding are required either to leave workplace premises to breastfeed or to express milk in the lavatory (Gatrell 2007b). This suggests that mothers' ability to combine breastfeeding with paid work is classed because women in low paid jobs – often black and minority ethnic workers – have less access to privacy in the workplace than do professional and highly educated women (Boswell-Penc and Boyer 2007; McCarter-Spaulding 2008). The link between limited opportunities to breastfeed and class is exemplified by Boswell-Penc and Boyer, who observe how a nursery worker describing herself as a ‘woman of color’ was prevented from breastfeeding her baby daughter (in the same childcare centre) owing to rigid staffing timetables. Against her wishes, this mother was obliged to cease breastfeeding and move her daughter on to formula milk (Boswell-Penc and Boyer 2007, p. 558).1

As the medical and health sociology literature shows, the impact of poor employer support on breastfeeding duration has been evidenced over many years (Wolf 2006). However, there remains a lack of agreement about why employers are antipathetic towards breastfeeding. Some of the literature on breastfeeding and work suggests that employers' resistance to breastfeeding is due to ignorance about the practical needs of nursing mothers, and also to limited organizational knowledge about the health benefits of breastfeeding (Witters-Green 2003). Employers' aversion towards breastfeeding and/or expressing breast milk has also been related to concerns that employees' workplace performance might suffer if they have contact with, or think about, children during the working day. Employers express further concerns that breastfeeding is inappropriate at work because it might embarrass other employees or clients, causing them to feel ‘discomfitted’ (Witters-Green 2003, p. 424).

The notion of social discomfiture towards the maternal body is central to socio-cultural debates about breastfeeding. Taking a similar approach to their stance on the employed pregnant body, as described earlier in this review, Hopfl (2000), Longhurst (2001) and Gatrell (2008) suggest that organizational antipathy to breastfeeding is due to employers' deep-seated fears about women's bodies, which they regard as unreliable and unpredictable in a way which does not apply to the bodies of men or to non-mothers. Hausman (2004) and Hopfl (2000) focus on the problems, for women, of integrating the post-childbirth body into the workplace. Hopfl (2000) observes how physical manifestations of maternity such as breastfeeding are unwelcome: ‘the organization [is] not a place for women with physical bodies which produce . . . blood, breast milk and maternal smells’ (2000, p. 101). For this reason, on returning to employment, new mothers are expected to render their maternal bodies as shadowy as possible. Breastfeeding mothers, especially, are required to discipline their ‘leaky’ bodies (Puwar 2004; Shildrick 1997), or to give up breastfeeding altogether. Women who resist pressure to conceal breastfeeding activities may be punished or excluded from workplace space, as in the respective cases of Australian MP Kirstie Marshall (Shaw 2004) and UK MP Julia Drown (Puwar 2004), each of whom was excluded when she attempted to breastfeed her baby in parliament.

Employed mothers and the bodies of infant children

The argument about employers' resistance to the ‘leaky’ maternal body (whether in relation to pregnancy or to breastfeeding) has been extended by Wolkowitz (2006) to encompass the bodies of infant children. In keeping with the views of Cockburn (2002), Wolkowitz observes how the problems experienced by employed women, whose pregnant and lactating bodies are seen to be ‘out of place’ at work, are echoed ‘by the difficulties [employed] mothers have in reconciling the way [in which] children's bodies seep unpredictably out of the times and spaces set aside for them’ (Wolkowitz 2006, p. 91). According to Wolkowitz, employers' anxieties about maternal sickness are transferred to the bodies of new infants. Employed mothers are consequently expected to conceal ‘evidence of children's sickness, tears and sleepless nights’ (Wolkowitz 2006, p. 91) from employers and colleagues at all times. Wolkowitz focuses particularly on the issues faced by women in professional and managerial roles, noting that many women managers and professionals do not have children (Wajcman 1998; Wolkowitz 2006). Wolkowitz speculates that this may be due to the exclusion of the needs of the maternal body from the routines of ‘professional life’, which makes ‘little room for pregnancy and the working mother’ (Wolkowitz 2006, p. 92).

It is evident from this review that extensive research is already being undertaken in disciplines outside management studies. An opportunity nevertheless exists for transdicisplinary research to be undertaken across the disciplines of management studies and health, in relation to employment, infant feeding and maternal well-being more broadly, taking a mixed methods approach and drawing upon both psycho-social and socio-cultural perspectives. Such research would seem essential if family friendly policies, aimed at enhancing parental and family well-being, are to be implemented in practice (Gatrell and Cooper 2008).


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The pregnant body and employment
  5. The newly maternal body and employment
  6. Summary
  7. References

This paper has systematically and comprehensively reviewed established and emerging debates from the transdisciplinary literatures on the maternal body and employment. Drawing upon the epistemological perspectives of management, psychology, health, law and socio-cultural and feminist studies, the review shows how a common thread, that of employer antipathy towards the maternal body, runs throughout the transdisciplinary literature. Drawing upon these different strands of research, the review observes how employers associate maternity with poor workplace performance, low work orientation, compromised health, unreliability, potential ‘leakage’ and the inconveniently demanding bodies of infant children. Thus, throughout the literature, the event of maternity is seen to have the effect of devaluing the employed female body. For example, within management psychology, the literature shows how pregnant women and new mothers are given low assessments in comparison with other workers. Running parallel to the notion of the devalued maternal body is the sense that limited data exist to substantiate employers' assumptions about lowered performance and/or ill health among employed pregnant and post-birth women.

The review has recognized a shift, within management studies, from psychological research on perceptions of the maternal body towards socio-cultural studies on the materiality of the maternal body. The notion that pregnant bodies are ‘suspect and stigmatized’ (Acker 2003, p. 56) and that the ‘leaky’ pregnant and newly maternal body may be unwelcome, has been established for many years outside the management field. Since 2000, however, as the review has shown, management research has begun to highlight from a socio-cultural perspective the pressures upon women to keep their maternal bodies and the bodies of their infant children well away from the workplace arena (Buzzanell and Liu 2007; Haynes 2006a, 2008a, b; Gatrell 2007a, 2008).

Implications for theory and practice

The review is timely and significant, having been produced at a point when issues of maternity and employment are increasingly pivotal within policy. As noted earlier, the UK Government report Fairness and Freedom (2007) has identified motherhood as the factor which, ‘above all’ leads to the unfair treatment of women within labour markets (Equalities Review 2007, p. 66). The level of discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers having been highlighted (EOC 2005; Kohl et al. 2005), maternity is now central to equal opportunities policy, which obliges organizations, in all employment decisions, ‘not to discriminate against women due to pregnancy’ (Kohl et al. 2005, p. 427).

The policy agendas that spotlight maternity thus require organizations to ensure the full integration of pregnant and newly maternal bodies within workplace settings. Workplace treatment of pregnant employees is under scrutiny because, despite years of equal opportunities legislation aimed at protecting pregnant and newly maternal workers (and regardless of whether businesses are corporate or small), there is a long way to go before such integration occurs (Equalities Review 2007; Haynes 2010; Rouse and Sappleton 2009). The transdisciplinary literature continues to suggest that the pregnant and newly maternal body is unwelcome within workplace space, sometimes to the point where it may be said to be abjured, such abjuration being detrimental to maternal well-being.

It could of course be argued that the well-being of mothers and their infants should not be classified as a management issue. However, this paper asserts that separating social from management issues is out of keeping with current family friendly initiatives aimed at reducing stress and improving the well-being of working parents (Gatrell and Cooper 2008). The notion of excluding maternal and familial well-being from the management arena also flies in the face of well-documented health evidence in the literature about the health benefits for infants and mothers of, for example, breastfeeding. From the business perspective, given the biomedical evidence that breastfed infants are apparently healthier than formula fed infants, it is possible that parents (i.e. mothers and fathers) who seek workplace accommodation of breastfeeding will require less time away from work to care for sick children. Furthermore, the workplace facilitation of breastfeeding could enhance the well-being of mothers who seek to continue nursing on their return to work following maternity leave (Gatrell 2007b). However, the situation for women who are pressured into switching to formula milk before they wish to (Boswell-Penc and Boyer 2007) must be very stressful – and stress, as is well known, is a major cause of sickness absence from work (Gatrell and Cooper 2008). Thus, the review contends that issues such as infant feeding are integral to management theory and practice, since maternal and infant health (or otherwise) could have a direct impact on maternal well-being and/or sickness absence from work.

Future research

The policy spotlight on employed pregnant women and new mothers, combined with the research evidence suggesting that employers and practitioners continue to disregard the maternal body, indicates a need for further research within management studies. This research falls into three categories: the investigation of health in pregnancy and employer attitudes towards the pregnant body (quantitative and qualitative); a socio-cultural investigation of women's experiences of being pregnant at work; and, finally, an analysis of what it means to be a newly maternal body in the workplace.

The first of these research opportunities relates to the substantiation (or disproving!) of negative perceptions about the pregnant and newly maternal body and health, which are presently based more upon myth than on evidence. For example, while the received wisdom about work orientation and the maternal body appears to be detrimental to mothers' promotion prospects (Acker 2003; Collinson 2000; EOC 2005; Gatrell 2005), the review has shown how the evidence upon which such negative assumptions are based is thin. This is also the case in relation to levels of sickness among pregnant employees, compared with other workers. The ‘thinness’ of the evidence about pregnancy performance and pregnancy sickness absence rates suggests that low evaluations of pregnancy performance owe more to ‘common belief’ than they do to research (Wood et al. 2008, p. 433). As observed earlier in the paper, this disparity between ‘common belief’ and evidence-based management decision-making suggests an urgent need for integrated and transdisciplinary research. In relation to pregnancy sickness absence, for example, quantitative research across the arenas of management and health care would enable management practitioners and scholars to gain a better understanding of the health profile of pregnant employees. Such research could focus on differentiating pregnancy-related illness from other categories of ill-health and also on achieving a better understanding of the overall health profile of pregnant employees, perhaps during each trimester of pregnancy. The results of such a study could further identify preventive measures which may be taken to avert health problems among pregnant workers. Further research on the relationship between workplace experience and maternal health could also facilitate clarification on whether there is a correlation between female-dominated workplaces and well-being in pregnancy. Should this hypothesis be proved, qualitative research could examine what qualities within female-dominated workplaces contribute to improved maternal health during pregnancy.

The second area for future research is also likely to be qualitative and would involve, from a socio-cultural perspective, further investigations around the implications of employers' antipathy towards the maternal body. At present, it is difficult to be precise about how far employer abjuration of the maternal body might exacerbate the kinds of workplace discrimination against mothers identified in the UK Government report Fairness and Freedom (Equalities Review 2007). Nevertheless, if social and cultural attitudes towards the maternal body play a part in the ‘unfair treatment’ of employed pregnant and newly maternal women, the need to pursue within management studies the important cultural and sociological themes which are already emerging within the management arena (Brewis and Warren 2001; Haynes 2008a, b; Gatrell forthcoming), becomes ever more pressing. Fresh and critical qualitative studies, building on the work of Gatrell (forthcoming), Haynes (2008a) and Warren and Brewis (2004) would enhance cultural and social understandings of women's experience of being pregnant at work. For example, further research on the kind of pregnant ‘presenteeism’ described by Gatrell (forthcoming) and Warren and Brewis (2004) would seem imperative for the purpose of unravelling the reasons why women remain at work despite feeling ill, as well as demonstrating the impact of such presenteeism on maternal and infant well-being.

Finally, the review calls for further research on the newly maternal body and employment in relation to maternity policies and workplace practices. While research on the health of employed mothers and their infants (especially in relation to infant feeding) proliferates outside management studies, important opportunities exist for transdisciplinary research to bring into the management arena better understandings of maternal employment and well-being. Further research on maternity and employment is required to investigate both the workplace experiences of newly maternal employees, as well as employers' understanding and implementation of policy post-maternity leave. For example, Coulson et al. (2010) observe how flexible working practices and good organizational support enhance productivity and workplace satisfaction among new mothers, this benefiting both employers and employees. Yet, as this review observes, employers both large and small continue to exhibit a paucity of knowledge about infant feeding and maternity regulations more broadly. In addition, constructive organizational attempts to improve the well-being of pregnant/newly maternal employees remain very limited (Gatrell 2008; Rouse and Sappleton 2009; Witters-Green 2003). Research on new mothers and employment could draw upon mixed methods and could be approached from both psycho-social and socio-cultural perspectives. In the same way that work–life balance research and policies have been shown to enhance both employees' well-being and productivity (Gatrell and Cooper 2008), new and proactive management research into maternal well-being is long overdue – and would be entirely in keeping with policy and research initiatives to create better family friendly working policies and practices in the UK and the USA.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The pregnant body and employment
  5. The newly maternal body and employment
  6. Summary
  7. References
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  • 1

    As one of the anonymous reviewers of this paper commented, it is interesting to note that employers may be more willing to provide cigarette breaks than to provide breaks to accommodate breastfeeding – albeit that smokers are obliged to leave office premises and must consume cigarettes in the open air (see Brewis and Grey 2008).