Shocking but true: Nearly half of all pregnant women in a 2018 survey said they’d consider leaving their workplace for a job that better accommodates breastfeeding mothers. While public health experts recommend that babies are breastfed exclusively for six months, in a country where there is no paid parental leave and where the average leave is 10 weeks, breastfeeding has become one of the biggest sources of stress for women returning to work.
Here are four ways companies can better support breastfeeding employees. The result is a win-win for moms who will experience more ease in their transition and employers who get the boost of greater retention.
1. Create a designated lactation room.
Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that employers must provide women with “a place other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public” in which to pump breast milk, there are no rules that a designated lactation room must not be used for any other purpose. But storage closets and flimsy screens don’t exactly create an adequate environment for women to pump. For a lactation room to be functional, it must have a chair and a flat surface on which to place the breast pump. In order for it to be comfortable, it should also have a door that locks, paper towels or wipes (to clean the space after use), a mirror (to readjust clothing after pumping), and electrical outlets (to plug in an electric breast pump, or recharge a battery powered pump). A white noise machine might also be appreciated, so that women don’t have to worry about the sound of the breast pump disturbing their coworkers. Additionally, a small refrigerator and a sink would help women save time by not having to go elsewhere to store their milk and clean their pump.
“By providing comfortable, private, designated lactation rooms, breast milk shipping, and return-to-work coaching--not just for new mothers themselves, but also their managers, companies can become the type of breastfeeding-friendly work environments that so many women seek. ”
2. Give women control of their pumping schedules.
A mother needs to pump as often as every 2-3 hours in order to keep up her milk supply and avoid obstacles such as pain, leaking, and serious infections like mastitis. While the frequency of pumping may decrease as a baby grows, it’s important to give women control over when they pump and for how long. (While 15-20 minutes per pump session is the average, it can take longer when women don’t feel relaxed—another reason to provide a comfortable lactation space).
3. Make your lactation policies known to everyone—not just nursing moms.
Many new mothers report a “breastfeeding stigma” when they’re back at work—and making it the responsibility of a mom to communicate her rights to coworkers can worsen negative interactions or even harassment between colleagues. A simple solution? Educate all employees—not just new moms—about women’s breastfeeding needs and the company policies in place to support them.
4. Consider breast milk shipping benefits.
For nursing moms who travel for work, breastfeeding presents an added layer of stressors. For instance, mothers are forced to figure out how can they keep milk fresh while on the road, and safely transport it back home for baby’s use. (For the record, hitting pause on pumping for the duration of the trip isn’t an option, as doing this will cause a woman’s supply to dry up.)
More and more companies are recognizing the need to offer breast milk shipping for employees—a move that helps moms focus on their work while away from home while also helping companies retain their top talent.
The Bottom Line
Companies that go beyond the FLSA-required minimum to support breastfeeding employees can help ease some of the stress that new mothers experience during the transition back to work, and show women that their professional contributions are valued. By providing comfortable, private, designated lactation rooms, breast milk shipping, and return-to-work coaching--not just for new mothers themselves, but also their managers, companies can become the type of breastfeeding-friendly work environments that so many women seek.
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