Many women find themselves torn between raising a family and building a career. As a mother of two young children, I know this challenge personally. The ability to continue breastfeeding a baby after returning to the workplace can help ease the transition between the two activities and has numerous benefits to both mother and baby- and even the employer.
The old saying that a happy employee is a productive one has withstood the test of time and is even backed by numerous studies that substantiate the connection between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and retention, and employee morale and the financial performance of the business. Supporting the unique needs of a breastfeeding mom can actually benefit business if it boosts her morale, helps to create equity in the workplace, and allows a women to provide for her child in one of the most basic and essential ways.
Studies have found breastfeeding moms have a lower risk of postpartum depression, decreased absenteeism, and health care costs. The World Health Organization recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed infants for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, health, and development, yet this practice is only followed by 15 percent of US mothers. Working outside the home unfortunately often coincides with a shorter duration of breastfeeding, and intentions to work full-time strongly correlates with lower rates of even initiating breastfeeding at birth. A cultural shift in the workplace can help shift this trend.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention identifies employer support of breastfeeding as an important goal to help reverse this trend, but what are the obstacles to overcome? Most women need to either nurse the child or express milk to maintain ample milk production and supply. Lack of accommodations to comfortably express and properly store milk, inability to take such breaks, or concern regarding perception from employers or colleagues can discourage this practice. For example, a woman without a private indoor space may end up sitting in her car to express milk– quite uncomfortable in the winter! She’s more likely to give up the practice than a women who has access to a private room or office.
Support for breastfeeding in the workplace can include providing a designated place for expressing milk or breastfeeding, allowing the option to work from home, providing extended maternity leave, creating a company policy, offering professional lactation management services, providing break time to express milk (approximately 10 to 20 minutes every two to four hours), and providing on-site child care so the employee can breastfeed the child during breaks. Some women or employers may feel uncomfortable speaking on this topic (see video below), especially if they are unaware of what reasonable accommodations are. Training human resource personal or supervisors on the needs of nursing moms is important as many are unaware of the kinds of accommodations she will need and ample training can make it more comfortable to have conversations on this topic.
Sarah Lozanova is the director of marketing for Bubble Train Toys and is passionate about the new green economy. She is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Natural Home & Garden, Energy International Quarterly, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.