Breastfeeding in the Workplace: What You Should Do

Updated: Jan 14, 2019



Despite the noted health benefits of breastfeeding and the United State’s commitment to increase the occurrence of breastfeeding, many women are prevented from breastfeeding due to work place rules. Many worksites do not have the facilities and work policies that can facilitate breastfeeding at work or breast milk expression and milk storage at work. It is possible to design a work environment that is conducive to breastfeeding, breast milk expression and breast milk storage. It is in the public interest, the mother’s interest, the infant’s interest, and the employer’s interest to develop a breastfeeding in the workplace program. For employers, a program can reduce overall costs, boost moral and productivity, and retain or attract high quality workers.


Benefits


Women with infants and children are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. labor force. Specifically, seventy percent of women with children under three years of age work full time. Also, one third of women return to work within three months of having a baby, and two thirds of women return to work within six months of having a baby. According to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, companies that adapted breastfeeding support programs showed


  1. Cost savings of $3 per $1 invested in breastfeeding support;

  2. Less illness among the children of breastfeeding employees;

  3. Reduced absenteeism to care for ill children;

  4. An average of $400 in health care cost savings per infant breastfeed over the first year;

  5. Improved employee productivity;

  6. Higher morale and greater loyalty;

  7. Improved ability to attract and retain valuable employees; and

  8. A family-friendly image in the community.


Background


Breastfeeding has officially been a public health priority since 1984 as breastfeeding provides mothers and infants health benefits. In 1990 the United States signed the “Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion, and Support of Breastfeeding” recognizing the importance of breastfeeding; the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund later adapted this declaration. In 2007 the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality published a summary on the reviews of breastfeeding in developed countries. The summary concluded that breastfeeding increased infants’ protection against otitis media, gastroenteritis, server lower respiratory infections and necrotizing; lowered infants’ rates of sudden infant death syndrome, childhood obesity, type two diabetes and leukemia; and reduced mothers’ rates of type two diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Additionally, breastfeeding lessens maternal postpartum blood loss, and decreases the risk of ovarian cancer. Women who breastfeed also show an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight. Breastfeeding is recommended in any form for at least the first year and is recommended as the exclusive form of feeding infants for at least the first six months.


Recommendations


The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee states that the smooth and safe operation of a breastfeeding in the workplace program is easiest with a designated lead person, and minimal programs usually generate a few hours of work each month. The designated lead person would be in charge of pump schedules, email, facility problems, new mother indoctrination and supplies. I provide you three options for breastfeeding in the workplace programs.


Before we discuss these recommendations it is important to review the requirements of the FLSA which require reasonable break times for a non-exempt employee to express breast milk for 1 year after the child’s birth each time the employee has need to express the milk. The employer is also required to provide a place that is shielded from view, free from intrusion, and which is not a bathroom for the non-exempt employee to express breast milk. This FLSA requirement does not prevent State laws from making additional requirements, does not provide paid breaks, and does not require breaks and resources for exempt employees. However, due to the extensive benefits of breastfeeding at work, the following options are recommended for non-exempt and exempt employees.


Breastfeeding in the Workplace Program Option 1: Basic Program


The employer provides a clean, private, comfortable multipurpose space (such as a conference room that may be locked) with an electrical outlet in order to express milk. The employees provide their own breast pump and cold packs for milk storage. The employer provides a table, comfortable chair, and trash can in the room. A sink, soap, water, and paper towels are near the room, but not in the room. The employer prepares a written policy. This policy allows for unpaid break periods for milk expression. The employer also ensures that all supervisors and employees are educated on the policy. This education is provided through handouts that list the breastfeeding resources available.


This option works best for employers that do not have the resources to supply more breastfeeding products and for employers who do not wish to excuse women from work throughout the day. However, many women need to breastfeed multiple times in a day. Therefore, this program may reduce the benefits of breastfeeding, and therefore may not yield the employer benefits anticipated. This type of program is recommended as a starting point, but should not be the long term solution to creating a breastfeeding in the workplace program.


Breastfeeding in the Workplace Program Option 2: Standard Program


The employer designates a room for the exclusive use of breastfeeding mothers. The room is clean and private with an electrical outlet in order to pump milk or to breastfeed. The employee provides her own breast pump. The employer provides a table, comfortable chair and trash can within the room. The employer also makes available refrigerator space designated for food and breast milk near the room. This refrigerator may be used to store breast milk. A sink, soap, water and paper towels are near the room, but not in the room. The employer prepares a written policy. This policy allows for unpaid breaks and 2 paid breaks for milk expression. The employer also ensures that all supervisors and employees are educated on the policy. This education is provided through handouts that list the breastfeeding resources available and formal training for new employees, supervisors and pregnant employees.


This option is ideal for most employers, and is recommended as a starting point or a long term solution for a breastfeeding in the workplace program. This type of program does require funding and a commitment from management to allow women to take paid time off of work to breastfeed throughout the day. As the employer obtains additional resources and realizes benefits of the program it may look to advancing to the advanced breastfeeding in the workplace program option. At a minimum the employer should work towards creating a dedicated lead person for the breastfeeding in the workplace program.


Breastfeeding in the Workplace Program Option 3: Advanced Program


The employer designates a room for the exclusive use of breastfeeding mothers. The room is clean and private with an electrical outlet in order to pump milk or to breastfeed. The employer supplies one multi-user electric breast pump, and employees provide their own collection kits. The employer provides a trash can, sink, soap, water, and paper towels in the room. The employer also supplies a small refrigerator that may only be used for break milk storage. The employer will provide a written policy. This policy will allow several paid breaks for milk expression. The employer also ensures that all supervisors and employees are educated on the policy. This education is provided through handouts that list the breastfeeding resources available and formal training for new employees, supervisors and pregnant employees. The employer will also appoint a designated lead person that will manage the breastfeeding in the workplace program. These duties include, assuring resources remain available, conducting training, marketing the breastfeeding in the workplace program, and making any needed updates to the program. This lead person would also be the point of contact for any questions on breastfeeding at the workplace.


This option is ideal for all employers, and is the recommended breastfeeding in the workplace program. This type of program does require substantial initial funding and a commitment from management to allow women to take paid time off of work to breastfeed throughout the day. All employers should work towards developing this type of program, to ensure that all the benefits of breastfeeding can be realized.


We can always have a free 15 minute chat to talk about your unique situation.


References


Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). HHS Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health.


Establishing a nursing mothers program page. (n.d.) Retrieved April 20, 2013, from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/reference-materials/establishing-a-nursing-mothers-program/.


Healthy people 2020: breastfeeding objectives page. (n.d.) Retrieved April 20, 2013, from http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/LegislationPolicy/FederalPoliciesInitiatives/HealthyPeople2020BreastfeedingObjectives/tabid/120/Default.aspx.


Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. (2005) Support of Service Women with Nursing Infants (BUMEDINST 6000.14). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Navy


Surgeon General (2009) Surgeon General’s perspectives: the 25th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s workshop on breastfeeding and human lactation: the status of breastfeeding. Public Health Reports. 124, 356-358


United States Breast Feeding Committee, Workplace breastfeeding support [issue paper]. Raleigh, NC: U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, 2002

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