As a nursing mother, the LAST thing I want is to breastfeed my baby by the photocopier

Like so many well-meaning ­initiatives from the nanny state, it sounds such a forward-­thinking, pro-women idea.

Under plans to be set out in a public health White Paper this week, employers will soon be expected to be flexible over when breast-feeding women take breaks, provide places where they can pump their breast milk, allow them to go home to feed or even bring their babies into work.

All of which has left me wondering: has anyone proposing these plans actually breast-fed a baby and worked?

For that matter, has anyone actually thought through the consequences at all?

Responsibility: Bridget Harrison, with children Joseph and baby Alexi

Responsibility: Bridget Harrison, with children Joseph and baby Alexi

Because as a mother who is breastfeeding her second child, I can tell you from experience that there is nothing remotely ­pro-women and forward-thinking about such a micro-managed policy.

On the contrary, I believe it will be bad for ­mothers (by pressuring them to return to work before they are fully ready); bad for babies (who need to be fed in a calm and relaxing environment); and bad for employers (particularly small firms, for whom the cost of implementing the measures will be yet another heavy burden at a time of recession).

Of course, we all know breastfeeding is the best way to feed our babies. We know the World Health Organisation and Department of Health advises that women should breastfeed for at least six months.

But any policy that assumes suckling your child is some easy activity that can be thrown into the mix of a normal working day ­underestimates exactly what is involved.

Breastfeeding is exhausting and emotional. Unless you have done it, it is difficult to fully ­understand what an intimate and consuming experience it is.

You look down at this small being and feel the heart-wrenching ­responsibility of knowing it is depending on you for ­sustenance and comfort; that you are the single most ­important thing in its universe.

Added problem: Most women returning to work already worry about proving themselves again

Added problem: Most women returning to work already worry about proving themselves again

These are the kinds of feelings that simply don’t mix with emails, meetings, deadlines and ­performance targets.

Likewise, it is also hard to describe the utterly exhausting sensation of pumping breast milk, to be stored and delivered at a later time. You feel yourself being drained in the most ­literal sense of the term.

The idea of trying to combine either of these activities with the demands of a busy job is just not something women should be required to do, unless ­absolutely necessary.

Most women returning to work from maternity leave already worry about proving they are as effective an employee as they were before.

It would be even harder to do this when also managing a demanding ­breastfeeding regime.

Harder still would be arranging for your baby to come to work to be fed. Who would bring them in?

Most women can’t afford a nanny and, even if they could, who would force their baby to make the same hellish commute as they have to endure to get to the office?

Once the baby is there, how could it not end up disrupting a ­working day?

Anyone who has seen a proud new mother return to work to show ­colleagues their infant knows just how distracting they are.

But it is not just the logistics of ­breastfeeding that make this such a bad idea for ­mothers.

There is also the ­pressure of returning to work before they are fully ready.

Working mothers find it hard enough to walk out of the door every morning, without the biological pressure of breastfeeding to c­ontend with.

Two weeks ago, I returned to a ­newspaper office, l­eaving my eight-month-old son, who I’m still ­breastfeeding, at home with a nanny — a relative luxury.

Once I had got over the ­excitement of being able to ­conduct an adult ­conversation without interruption, I began to feel a terrible longing to be back at home with him — because I knew he would be desperately ­missing the afternoon breastfeed, which is so much a part of his day.

Each evening when I walked back in the door at 6.30pm, I found my son whimpering and crying.

The moment I took him in my arms, he would frantically claw at my shirt, desperate to get to my breast.

His nanny told me how he had been unusually clingy and distressed ­during the days I was away. I knew then that I had returned to work before I (or my baby) was ready.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe for one moment that women should give up their careers when they have a child.

After my first son was born, I went back to work full-time. But I did so after ten months and when I had taken the time to get him on to a bottle.

Business decision: Ruth Lea says it will irritate bosses who feel they already do enough for mothers

Business decision: Ruth Lea says it will irritate bosses who feel they already do enough for mothers

Of course, it was heart-wrenching to leave him every day, too — and still is — but I was at least free of that biological tie, which makes leaving a baby ­fundamentally so much harder.

My first son was never clingy or ­distressed by my absence. He was thrilled to see me in the evening, but his reaction was never desperate and confused.

The National Childbirth Trust’s ­spokeswoman, Rosemary Dodd, said yesterday that if the plans to enable women to carry on breastfeeding more easily at work ‘means a woman is relaxed and confident about going back to her job, then it’s a good thing for employers’.

But the truth is that trying to combine breastfeeding with separation from her child will make a mother anything but relaxed and confident.

She’ll be more likely to be anxious, guilty and shattered, which is no help for those who are paying her, either.

That said, there are thousands of women who do bravely manage to ­combine breastfeeding with work.

They carry breast pumps in their ­handbags; slip off discreetly to pump and store the milk in specially designed cooler bags. I support wholeheartedly their right to do so.

But since they are already managing this, why do they need the Government to intervene on their behalf?

Most would argue that these kinds of arrangements would be better made informally between employee and boss — if they need to be made at all.

As economist Ruth Lea, former head of the policy unit at the ­Institute of Directors says, being forced to do more will only serve to irritate bosses who feel they are already bending over backwards to ­accommodate potential mothers.

Little wonder, then, that the Federation of Small Businesses has warned that some ­companies may have reached the ­tipping point where the burden of so much new maternity ­legislation has started to cost jobs.

As a woman, I never want an employer to look at me and think twice about employing me because I need special treatment.

Indeed, when I was pregnant with my first son, I felt the classic guilt that many working women feel over how long I planned to take off on maternity leave.

Knowing legally I was allowed to take up to a year did not remove the ­pressure I felt to return to work sooner.

I even remember one boss saying ‘Well, my wife took only three months off’ when I mumbled about the ­possibility of taking a whole year.

If breastfeeding facilities are made available in the workplace, how many other women will feel even greater ­pressure to return to work sooner than they might wish?

You can just imagine the not-so-subtle comments from their bosses. ‘Come back to work, just bring the baby in for a feed,’ or ‘you don’t need six months’ maternity leave, just bring in your hand-pump and fill up our new special fridge.’

Is that fair? Is it ‘forward-thinking’?

No, if the Government wants to ­support working mothers it needs to be realistic about our lives.

Give us choice, flexibility and the opportunity to take as long at home
as possible.

But be sensible enough to know that as revolutionary and right-on as it sounds, working and breastfeeding just does not mix.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now