Miriam is a friend and a single mother, presently on maternity leave from her job as a mid-level manager in information technology.

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Breastfeeding

Miriam is a friend and a single mother, presently on maternity leave from her job as a mid-level manager in information technology.

She now faces a heartbreaking situation. Her two-months-old son, Jamie, born six weeks prematurely, has respiratory and developmental difficulties that require her constant attention.

What is she to do at the end of her maternity leave time? To employ a properly qualified nurse to look after Jamie while she’s at work would cost a lot more than she can afford. Must she abandon her career and become a welfare mum?

A couple of weeks ago, there was a glimmer of hope for Miriam and other mothers trapped in similar situations.

Baby breast-fed during Cabinet deliberations

It came in no less a place than the Federal Government’s Cabinet Room, not through a proposal for legislation but because a Cabinet Minister brought her baby son with her into the meeting and actually breast-fed him during the Cabinet’s deliberations.

And before that, in June, a Greens Senator, Larissa Waters, made headlines when she breastfed her baby while the Senate was in session and in fact moved a motion while she was doing so.

Maybe these two occurrences bespeak a change in attitude that might spread to the wider workplace environment. And it is attitudes that need most to be changed, not matters of practicality, as Revenue and Financial Services Minister Kelly O'Dwyer demonstrated.

She fetched baby Edward’s cot into her office and installed it alongside her desk and used headphones so she could work the telephones while breast-feeding or holding him in her arms.

CEO will tell his executives it can be done

This was the scene that greeted the CEO of one of the major banks when he turned up at Ms O’Dwyer’s office for a meeting. “He was surprised, but not in a bad way,” she told Fairfax Media.

In fact, the CEO agreed to having photographs taken and said he’d use them to demonstrate to his own executives that it could be done.

“I’ve always been pretty efficient with my time,” said Ms O’Dwyer, who was also Acting Treasurer at the time.

Edward set a precedent for his presence at Cabinet meetings as a newborn, attending by teleconference from Melbourne. Then, at the ripe old age of three months, he made his ‘live’ debut in the Cabinet Room in Canberra and received a cuddle from the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Ms O’Dwyer has an advantage few other women enjoy. Her husband has been able to take extended leave to take care of Edward and his older sister, Olivia, who is two.

Miriam and others like her don’t have that way out of the work-care dilemma.

Ms O’Dwyer used the publicity surrounding Edward’s Cabinet meeting attendance to emphasise the need for the Liberal Party to pre-select women for ‘winnable’ seats.

She said it was ‘vitally important’ that women had role models in parliament: “Particularly women of different backgrounds and different experiences. I think that people need to see there is a career for them, and they can continue to be a mother or choose to be a mother.”

Surely the same principles should apply in all the work environment generally, not just in politics.