Honored Guest Post by Peggy O’Mara
Most women want to breastfeed their babies. According to a 2012 study in Pediatrics, 85% of new mothers want to exclusively breastfeed their babies for at least three months. However, only 32.4% of them actually do so. According to the CDC, 75% of new mothers begin to breastfeed, but by three months, only 33.3% are exclusively breastfeeding, and only 13.3% by six months. What happens? Mothers go back to work.
One of the reasons women stop breastfeeding earlier than they originally intended is difficulty in pumping. According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC), “One of the main causes for the drop-off in breastfeeding rates is the lack of break time and a private place to pump in the workplace.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) provides for break time for nursing mothers who are hourly wage earners in large companies; those with fewer than 50 employees can claim a hardship. Among other things, employers are required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” Twenty-four states have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace, some of which exceed the federal requirements.
GOOD FOR BUSINESS
Besides being the right thing to do for public health, supporting breastfeeding in the workplace is also good for business. Breastfeeding moms have less absenteeism, and stay with the company longer. A study of multiple companies with lactation support programs found an average retention rate of 94.2%. Companies with lactation programs have lower health care costs and enjoy increased employee loyalty, and productivity.
For smart companies, like Earth Mama, supporting breastfeeding is in their DNA: their breastfeeding product line includes Natural Nipple Butter and Organic Milkmaid Tea. In addition to supporting the breastfeeding mother with organic, non-GMO products, Earth Mama also supports its breastfeeding staffers.
Melinda Olson, owner of Earth Mama, was a breastfeeding mom herself and she advocates for breastfeeding because she knows how important it is for the health of both mother and baby. Olson considers it “both a legal and ethical responsibility for companies to provide a spacious and compassionate allowance for breastfeeding moms.” That’s why she’s made sure to create a Breast Room at the company headquarters in Clackamas, Oregon.
Earth Mama’s Breast Room gives nursing mothers the privacy they need to pump plus many other thoughtful extras; you can tell that the room was designed by breastfeeding mothers. In addition to the private space, the Breast Room at Earth Mama contains these essentials.
- Comfy chair
- Small refrigerator
- Sink with Earth Mama Castile Soap
- Breast pump
- Pictures or video of baby
- Earth Mama Milkmaid Tea
- Earth Mama Natural Nipple Butter
- Earth Mama Booby Tubes
- Or a Milk-to-Go Pumping Companion Essentials
One of the impressive things about this list is that not only can an employee wash her hands with the Castile soap, she can also use it to wash the breast pump parts, and the Natural Nipple Butter doubles as a lubricator for the pump’s flanges.
HELP FOR COMPANIES
Employees at Earth Mama are fortunate to have as a boss an industry leader who appreciates the value of supporting breastfeeding employees in the workplace. Some companies, however, want to support breastfeeding, but don’t know where to start. Fortunately, there is lots of help and encouragement. Several important institutions encourage employers to create and maintain lactation support programs for their employees.
The Surgeon General’s National Prevention Strategy includes several initiatives, one of which is to support breastfeeding. On January 20, 2011, Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin released The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding: ”Given the importance of breastfeeding for the health and well-being of mothers and children, it is critical that we take action across the country to support breastfeeding.” The Surgeon General’s report Identifies 20 key actions to increase support for breastfeeding, including:
- Action 13. Work toward establishing paid maternity leave for all employed mothers.
- Action 14. Ensure that employers establish and maintain comprehensive, high-quality lactation support programs for their employees.
- Action 15. Expand the use of programs in the workplace that allow lactating mothers to have direct access to their babies.
The Institute of Medicine issued the report, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation in May 2012. The report’s recommendations encourage workplace policies “to support breast-feeding mothers, including ensuring both private space and adequate break time.”
The Office of Women’s Health is creating an online searchable database of businesses that have found creative solutions to support employees who are nursing their babies. And, everymother.org offers extensive resources on training programs for onsite lactation support.
Whether you are fortunate to work for a socially responsible company like Earth Mama or not, know that both state and federal laws are in your favor. Talk to your employer about breastfeeding before you take maternity leave. Combine maternity leave with vacation time if you can. Look for flexible work arrangements after the baby is born. Read the Employee’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Working from the Office of Women’s Health and line up your support network early on.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She founded Mothering.com in 1995 and was its editor-in chief until 2012. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of two.