Oil and gas technical apprentice Andrea has shared her story breastfeeding offshore as a new mum while training as a production technician.
Andrea “found there is still a stigma” around returning to work after having a baby, but praised BP for being “extremely supportive” of her storing breastmilk while working offshore.
In a post on LinkedIn, she recounted her experiences of taking part in the ECITB and OPITO’s Oil and Gas Technical Apprentice Programme (OGTAP), while training to become a production technician and starting a family.
Giving birth to her son in 2021, Andrea decided to breastfeed after reading about its benefits, saying: “The research is very clear about the benefits for the baby’s immunity, nutrition and the bond between mother and baby and it was very important to me that I do this and continue until my son was at least one year old.”
Knowing she would have to do a placement offshore, she was concerned about how she would keep breastfeeding and managing her family life.
OPITO supported Andrea when she returned from her parental leave, enabling her to express breastmilk at work and store it during the day.
She was given access to a small fridge-freezer and ice blocks to transport her milk home for her son after a day’s work.
When her baby was just six month old, Andrea was offered an offshore placement by oil giant BP.
She requested facilities to express milk while away from home, so she could keep her supply of milk up for when she was back onshore.
Andrea said she felt anxious about spending time at sea, not knowing how her baby would cope with the separation.
Knowing that offshore workers usually share rooms, the BP apprentice did not know what to expect.
However, she sad the supermajor was “extremely supportive” and provided her with a single room where she could express milk at any time and store it for when she returned home.
She was also offered shorter stints offshore, working three to five days away from home, allowing her to get used to the offshore environment while seeing how things would work for her family.
This experience offshore have Andrea the confidence to work away from home for longer spells of up to three weeks.
She said: “I couldn’t have done this without the support of OPITO, BP and my husband Laszlo Elias who does an incredible job of taking care of our son whilst I’m offshore.
“We’ve found that as a family we get to spend more quality time together because when I finish my three weeks away, I am at home for four or five weeks. This gives us lots of time together as a family.
“I share my story to raise awareness about breastfeeding and the need for mothers to be supported by employers to return to work, if they want to.
“Regardless of whether a mum is breastfeeding or not, it’s a really challenging time, especially as a first-time mum.
“Providing a flexible return to work and breastfeeding facilities, should a mother need those, would really help families make decisions and help employers keep women in the workplace.”
Andrea shared her story for World Breastfeeding Week and aims to raise awareness around breastfeeding and the need for new mothers to be supported by employers to return to work, if and when they choose to do so.