Breastfeeding and the Workplace

World Breastfeeding Week is in full swing and we’re proud to support this amazing cause every year.  When it comes to a mother’s choice to breastfeed and her desire to provide the very best nutrition for her baby, sometimes there are barriers to success, especially when mothers work outside the home and spend time away from their babies.  Breastfeeding after returning to work can be challenging but is completely possible with the proper support.  Today were taking a look at breastfeeding and the working mom.

Breastfeeding and the WorkplaceBreastfeeding and the workplace are a critical component of the theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2016 – Breastfeeding, a key to sustainable development.  Women make up nearly half of the labor force in the U.S. and almost 75% of these women work full-time.  As such a substantial part of the country’s workforce and as a vital element to the family unit’s income, women are a valuable asset in the workplace for businesses and families.  Therefore, supporting mothers as they start families and make responsible feeding choices for their babies should be crucial to businesses.

Unfortunately, many moms do not feel their employers value their decision to have babies and breastfeed.  Despite the many strides in overcoming gender inequities in the workplace, childbearing and breastfeeding continues to be an issue that holds women back in their careers.

When it comes to breastfeeding and the working mom, there are a few eye-opening insights that prevent mothers from achieving their breastfeeding goals.  Studies indicate women who return to work full-time are half as likely to be breastfeeding their babies by 6 months.  Also, women who have shorter maternity leaves terminate breastfeeding earlier than those with longer maternity leaves.

The obvious barrier to breastfeeding success for mothers who work full-time is separation from their babies.  Allowing mothers to be productive at work and continue breastfeeding, requires three critical elements from employers:  a substantial maternity leave, a flexible schedule, and the ability to pump.

First, an adequate maternity leave helps moms solidify a breastfeeding relationship with their babies.  This not only allows mother’s time to recover from childbirth and adjust to life with a new baby, it also gives moms a chance to nurture their milk supply by breastfeeding their babies as often as necessary.  When moms and babies have the opportunity and time to learn to breastfeed, they have a greater likelihood of success.  Maternity leaves of two or more months can help families establish a healthy breastfeeding routine before moms return to work.

When the time comes for mom to go back to work, flexibility can make the transition much easier.  Flexibility can come in various forms including adjusting her work schedule, job sharing, changing roles for less time-sensitive assignments, and requiring less travel, to name a few.  Offering flexibility also boosts a new mom’s morale and increases job satisfaction.  Employees feel more valued and are happier when their employers are willing to work with their needs to ensure a healthy work-life balance.

Of course when mothers work full-time and are separated from their babies, they must pump to maintain their milk supply and have breast milk to provide their babies during their absence.  Pumping requires time, space and tolerance from management and peers. Although pumping breaks are not required by law, many employers are open to helping new moms.  Before returning to work, new moms are encouraged to discuss their desire to pump with their supervisor.  For the space, a mother can request a clean room that locks with a chair and an outlet for the breast pump.  She’ll also need to pump several times a day without feeling she is not fulfilling her duties, being shamed or sabotaging her career.

Although many employers may not see it this way, ultimately allowing mothers the opportunity for breastfeeding success benefits everyone.  Breastfed babies are sick less often, which means mothers are present at work more often.  Breastfeeding is also great for a mother’s health.  This combination of health benefits is less taxing on the business’ health insurance too.  Mothers will also enjoy their jobs more and feel dedicated to their work if they are allowed to achieve these personal goals alongside maintaining their careers.

With strategic planning and commitment, mothers can be successful in meeting their breastfeeding goals when returning to work.


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