Stress over working mother's lack of privacy to pump milk

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 3:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 4:07pm

Working in a glass-fronted office building with a million-dollar view of the harbour is a dream for many. But for breastfeeding mother Phyllis Tong, the prospect of a window cleaner suddenly appearing as she produces milk for her three-month-old daughter makes it a nightmare.

"I was so stressed that I produced less milk than I used to. I feel insecure whenever I do it in the office," said Tong, who works for a finance company at IFC.

"They designed a washroom with shower facilities … but there isn't a single nursing room in this building, which is among the best in the city," she said.

Tong's complaint came as a public consultation on population policy was launched. One of its aims is to create a more supportive environment in which to start a family.

Her one-hour lunch break has shrunk to 10 minutes as she spends the bulk of her time setting up a "safe" space to prepare a meal for her child, who spends her days at home with the family's helper. Her boss has allowed her the use of his office, but the glass windows mean extra work.

"I have to find a pair of screens to surround me. Still, there are gaps between the screens so I have to put some paper over it."

The last step is plugging in the pumping machine.

"I have to remove the plug of the printer to make space for the plug of my pump. The whole process is very unpleasant and unhygienic, with emissions from the toner cartridges and shredded paper surrounding me."

There are three nursing rooms far below in the IFC mall, about 15 minutes from her office. But the rooms do not provide the electricity needed to turn on Tong's breast pump. Worse, one of the rooms is in a bathroom.

"It's unacceptable … I won't prepare my daughter's meal in a washroom," Tong said.

In Singapore, nursing rooms will soon not be allowed inside bathrooms, said Dr John Keung, the head of the Building and Construction Authority in the city-state, which is making family-friendly facilities compulsory in new public buildings from April.

A spokesman for Henderson Land, one of the IFC developers, said it would listen to Tong's criticism and improve facilities.