Pumped Up: Breastfeeding Working Moms Need Support In Workplace

Workplace conditions for breastfeeding vary and impact working moms.

Workplace conditions for breastfeeding vary and impact working moms.

Esther Kestenbaum, CEO of DayOne Baby,envisions a world “where all workplaces and public spaces have accommodations for lactating mothers.”

A mother and grandmother, Kestenbaum says DayOne Baby offers portable mothers’ rooms workplace services, education, breast pump rentals, classes, support and more, as part of a corporation’s social responsibility to address the needs of working mothers. DayOne Baby’s clients include Microsoft, Fitbit, Netflix, Airbnb, Salesforce.com, Survey Monkey and Pinterest.

“From a societal standpoint, we think lactation should be normalized,” Kestenbaum says.

All working mothers from the assembly line to the C-suite should be able to pump breastmilk “in a dignified place that is not a bathroom stall or the passenger seat of a car in a parking lot,” Kestenbaum says.

Workplace conditions for breastfeeding vary and impact working moms. @Day1Baby envisions a world where all workplaces and public spaces have accommodations for lactating mothers.

The recent efforts by the United States to undermine the World Health Assembly’s global resolution supporting breastfeeding and discouraging inaccurate marketing techniques on formula has reverberations in the workplace.

While more than 8 in 10 mothers (81.1 percent) in the U.S. begin breastfeeding their babies at birth, many stop earlier than is recommended, according to the 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 51.8 percent are still breastfeeding at 6 months of age.

It may come as no surprise to working mothers, but much of that reduction may be because support for lactating mothers is not a given in every corporate culture or workspace, even though it is a federal law. As a leader in the workplace or a colleague of other working mothers, it may be up to you to advocate for women who opt for lactation support at work.

As a leader in the workplace or a colleague of other working mothers, it may be up to you to advocate for women who opt for lactation support at work. #leadingmothers

The National Center for Biotechnology Information  reports multiple barriers for breastfeeding and employment. More than eight years ago, “the Society for Human Resource Management reported that only 25 percent of companies surveyed had lactation programs or made special accommodations for breastfeeding. Many mothers encounter pressure from coworkers and supervisors not to take breaks to express breast milk, and existing breaks often do not allow sufficient time for expression,” NCBI reports.

“Studies show that women intending to return to work within a year after childbirth are less likely to initiate breastfeeding, and mothers who work full-time tend to breastfeed for shorter durations than do part-time or unemployed mothers. Women with longer maternity leaves are more likely to combine breastfeeding and employment. Jobs that have less flexibility and require long separations of mother and baby further complicate breastfeeding. Hourly wage workers face different challenges than salaried workers, as the former typically have less control over their schedules, and their pay may be reduced if they take breaks to express breast milk,” the NCBI reports.

Yet, it is the law that mothers have adequate time and space for lactation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, mothers are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce, but only 52 percent of new moms have workplace lactation support.

According to the @USDOL, mothers are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce, but only 52% of #NewMoms have workplace lactation support. What action will you take to help make yours a lactation friendly workplace?

“Since 2010, the federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law has helped make breastfeeding and working possible for more moms across the country. The law requires employers to provide break time and a private place for hourly paid employees to pump breast milk during the work day,” according to Kelly Mom.

But there are stipulations. Workplaces with fewer than 50 employees are not required to have a break room if it would pose hardship to the employer.

“If you are not covered by the federal law, don’t panic. Contact your state or local breastfeeding coalition to find out if you are covered by a state law, and join the United States Breastfeeding Committee in the fight to extend workplace breastfeeding protection to more employees by asking your legislators to cosponsor the Supporting Working Moms Act,” Kelly Mom reports.

There is government support for businesses, managers and employees to enact the necessary practices to enable all breastfeeding mothers to be able to pump while at work.

According to the federal Office on Women’s Health, “The Business Case for Breastfeeding is a comprehensive program designed to educate employers about the value of supporting breastfeeding employees in the workplace. The Business Case for Breastfeeding offers tools to help employers provide worksite lactation support and privacy for breastfeeding mothers to express milk. The program also offers guidance to employees on breastfeeding and working. Resources to help lactation specialists and health professionals to educate employers in their communities are also available.”

But what may also be crucial is women supporting other women in the workplace, whether they are mothers or not.

A new study, the first to focus on female co-workers and their impact on colleagues who are breastfeeding, from Michigan State University and Texas Christian University researchers shows, “the more support women receive from their colleagues, the more successful they are in believing they can continue breastfeeding. While support from family or friends is important, surprisingly, co-worker support has a stronger effect,” Sarina Gleason writes in Medical Xpress. 

“In order to empower women to reach their goals and to continue breastfeeding, it’s critical to motivate all co-workers by offering verbal encouragement and practical help,” Joanne Goldbort, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at MSU, who collaborated with lead author Jie Zhuang at TCU, tells Gleason.

“The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest exclusive breastfeeding for the first six to 12 months and then continuing with supplementary feeding of solid foods up to two years of age or longer,” Gleason writes.

“If women know that co-workers and supervisors will support them in their breastfeedingefforts, it can make a big difference,” Goldbort tells Gleason. “It really takes a village to breastfeed a baby.”

Some “proactive employers have hired consultants to support new mothers reintegrating to the workplace after the birth of a child. Others have installed portable lactation rooms with features such as hospital-grade breast pumps and videoconferencing services that can connect mothers with credentialed lactation consultants,” according to Bloomberg Law.

‘‘Initially there was a fair amount of confusion,’’ Julie Trester, a partner in the labor and employment practice of Cozen O’Connor in Chicago, tells Bloomberg. ‘‘But I think employers more and more are providing a reasonable space. Many of our clients are going above and beyond the basic requirements. So they are providing a refrigerator and a sink and a clean lactation room. People are acclimating to the law and compliance is the norm.’’

According to MedWatch Today, women who have breastfeeding support from their employers report greater job satisfaction and gratitude.

“Globally, breastfeeding saves lives. It starts with the most vulnerable infants, such as those we care for in the neonatal intensive care unit, in technologically advanced situations. Mounting evidence shows the direct relationship between the use of breast milk and the strength of protection against morbidity in extremely preterm infants,” write Nana Matoba, MD MPH, a neonatologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Daniel Robinson, MD MSc, a neonatologist at Lurie in The Hill.

“Competing mightily for talent, spending money attracting, retaining and satisfying your workforce,” are high priorities, Kestenbaum says. And accommodating breastfeeding mothers in the workplace is part of that equation.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com