On my return to work after my second child, six huge stacks of charts covered my desk awaiting my review, my schedule was booked, and, besides indulging me by looking at a few cute baby pictures, my colleagues expected me to jump right back into work. And believe me, I was actually glad to escape feeling like a human burp cloth.
However, I had made a commitment to my child and to my family that I would continue to fulfill an important duty as a mother. I was committed to providing my son with human milk in order to keep him healthy, save us thousands of dollars in formula and make me healthier as well.
Benefits: Absenteeism, Health Care Costs, Loyalty
Research shows that mothers of formula-fed children require three times as many one day absences to care for sick children compared to those fed breast milk. Furthermore, healthier babies require fewer doctor visits and prescription medications which saves health care dollars. Also, women who provide breastmilk have lower rates of illness including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. Employers who support lactation will have a healthier bottom line when it comes to overall health care costs. Cigna showed that their lactation support program resulted in annual savings of $240,000 in health care costs.
Mothers who are supported in pursuing their goals for pumping are also more loyal to their company. If the cost of a lactation room or providing breaks seems demanding, keep in mind the cost of recruiting and training a replacement. The national average maternity workforce retention rate is 59%; after implementing a lactation support program, Mutual of Omaha showed retention rates of 83%.
The U.S. is the only developed country in the world without a single day of paid maternity leave. Many countries offer weeks to months per child; we offer zero. The Family and Medical Leave Act gives women 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave, but many families cannot afford this. As many as 25% of new mothers go back to work 10 days after childbirth. Therefore, many mothers are returning to the workplace before adequate bonding, healing, and confidence in breastfeeding is established.
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to provide reasonable break times for employees to express breast milk for a nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. These breaks should be provided each time a breastfeeding employee has the need to express the milk and should be offered in a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public.
I was lucky to have a private office to use for pumping, but this is not required by law. Depending on how many mothers are employed in one building, a single reusable room can be shared. A private room as small as 4’x5’ with an electrical outlet, a chair, and a door that locks will suffice.
Pumping in a bathroom is not hygienic. However, access to a sink after pumping to rinse off pump parts is necessary. Many women store their pumped milk in a simple cooler similar to an insulated lunch bag. Access to a refrigerator to store pumped milk is a bonus feature for a supportive office to offer.
As an employee, I had to ask permission to schedule breaks in the day to pump. My colleagues were supportive, but not all employees feel empowered to ask. Companies large and small benefit from having established lactation policies. Breaks might need to be as frequent as every two to three hours when a woman first returns to work (especially if sooner than eight weeks after birth), but will generally need to be every four hours. Breaks take about 30 minutes to allow for pumping, storing milk, and cleaning pump parts; expect a learning curve where it will get quicker as time goes on. Remember that a pumping break does not make an employee as unavailable as a cigarette break—and is much healthier! Many employees can multitask while pumping including making phone calls, typing emails, and even eating lunch or a snack. Women who stay home with babies face the same challenges.
I was fortunate to be supported and was able to breastfeed my son until he was 15 months old. I stopped pumping after 12 months and was glad to regain that time during my busy office schedule. Being able to pump for my infant was essential to my mental health; it made me feel involved in his care even though I was away from him. I never missed a day of work due to him being sick and felt more loyal to my employers.
Working mothers deserve support in achieving their pumping goals. It’s a win-win-win situation for employers, mothers, and the next generation!
For more information visit www.womenshealth.gov/files/documents/bcfb_business-case-for-breastfeeding-for-business-managers.pdf.