Wellington public servants wanting to breast feed or express milk are using rooms which also host afternoon massages and sick colleagues.

In November the Herald revealed a Wellington City councillor resorted to expressing milk in her car after the council turned a dedicated parents' room into a massage room at its headquarters. Massages have since been moved elsewhere.

The situation in the majority of Government departments is a vast improvement from their local government counterpart in the capital, with most having dedicated parents' rooms.

But several have "wellness" or "health" rooms, which double as first aid and parents' rooms. Furthermore, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage offers a self-funded massage service from its health room one afternoon every other week.

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Employment lawyer Steph Dyhrberg said there was a tension between providing space when it was in short supply and employers wanting to be welcoming when parents come back to work.

Having shared rooms brought challenges, she said.

"You feel a bit guilty about using a space that somebody might need because they're ill, or you're in there and somebody's sick, or somebody's in there and then you're wanting to go in there and it's really awkward.

"Breastfeeding, keeping it going, expressing milk, all of which I've done while I've been working many years ago, that's sort of difficult enough as it is, and then to have to feel awkward or uncomfortable or that you're an imposition, or that there just isn't a suitable space, that makes it much harder.

Employment lawyer Steph Dyhrberg says shared rooms bring challenges. Photo / Supplied.
Employment lawyer Steph Dyhrberg says shared rooms bring challenges. Photo / Supplied.

The State Services Commission, Statistics New Zealand, the Ministry for Women, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and the Department of Corrections all have combined rooms for parents to use.

Employers have to give breastfeeding breaks and appropriate facilities for women who want to breastfeed or express milk for their babies where this is reasonable and realistic in the circumstances.

"While it is not a great option, because a mother will need daily and regular access to whatever room is set up for her, a sick room could be used as a breastfeeding/expression room when not otherwise being used", according to an Employment New Zealand guide.

A Ministry for Culture and Heritage spokesperson said they did not have any other suitable spaces to separate the two functions, but the room met requirements including a lock on the door, a fridge, and hand washing facilities.

The massage service also offered from the Ministry's "designated health room" is considered part of its wellness programme.

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"Staff are under no obligation to partake in this therapeutic service where they are given a head and shoulder massage", the spokesperson said.

Internal Affairs is one of the Government departments which does have a dedicated parents' rooms at its Wellington office.

Senior communications advisor Genevieve Le Gall went on maternity leave for about ten months and came back to work on a part-time basis when she was still expressing milk.

"When you're in that situation as a new parent you've got a lot of different balls in the air and just knowing that you have a dedicated space where you're not going to be interrupted is huge in taking a bit of the stress out of that situation."

Mothers don't always know exactly when they will need to express, she said.

"Having that dedicated space means you know that when the need arises, you have a place that you can go to which is comfortable and secure to get done what you need to do to provide for your family."

The Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry for Māori Development did not return requests for comment.

The Crown Law Office treated the Herald's query as an Official Information Act request.