Breastfeeding at work: 4 surprising benefits to business owners

Are you up to speed on the laws related to breastfeeding at work?

Effective March 2010, “Break Time for Nursing Mothers,” a provision of the federal health care reform law that supports breastfeeding, requires that employers provide paid time and dedicated space for nonexempt employees to express breast milk at work. Further, the law requires that employers provide this until the employee’s baby turns one year old.

There are also many states with laws of their own supporting breastfeeding in the workplace.

At first glance, it may seem like this should provide nursing moms returning to work from maternity leave with all the support they need. However, it’s not quite that simple.

Loopholes leave employees who are classified as exempt – teachers are a good example – uncovered by the law. And small employers with fewer than 50 employees, who demonstrate they will suffer business hardship by complying with the law, are exempt from it.

In addition, the law doesn’t cover mothers who wish to breastfeed beyond their baby’s first year. Further complicating the matter, many employers have simply remained resistant to compliance with this law, leaving the nursing mothers who work for them without any provisions of a lactation law to support their breastfeeding efforts.

Why all the hoopla about lactation support?

In the 19th century, breastfeeding was the norm, and most infants were breastfed until they were sometimes as old as four years of age. As time, societal norms and women’s participation in the workforce have changed, the number of breastfed children has steadily decreased.

What has increased over the past century is that breastfeeding in public – and in the workplace, in particular – is often viewed as inappropriate and unprofessional in many settings. As a result, many breastfeeding mothers have felt pressure to discontinue breastfeeding before they want to, or quit their jobs if they find no support or compromise with their employers.

The case for breastfeeding has long been a strong one, advocated by most medical authorities who cite research showing that breastfeeding:

  • Supports improved infant health, resulting in fewer infections and higher IQs
  • Promotes bonding between mother and infant
  • Is less expensive than the cost of baby formula
  • Is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer in women
  • Is an ecologically sound practice

All that’s really needed to provide lactation support to nursing moms is privacy, a comfortable chair, electricity and a small refrigerator for storage. So, if you’re an employer who’s able to skirt the nursing mom’s law, why should you consider otherwise?

Benefits of lactation support that can boost your bottom line

Beyond requirements of the law, providing lactation support to your employees is the right thing to do, the moral high ground, and beneficial to your business. Here’s how you can benefit.

1. Increased employee retention

Providing time and space for lactation can be a selling point for recruiting top talent. Women of childbearing age looking for jobs may be more likely to choose your company over a competitor when they learn that you support lactation needs for nursing mothers.

New mothers may also return from maternity leave sooner when they know you support them by providing time and a private space to express breast milk during the workday.

2. Increased loyalty and productivity

A supportive work environment, where new mothers feel comfortable and encouraged to breastfeed and express milk during the workday, can reduce some of the stress inherent to juggling work and motherhood.

The result is gratitude and increased employee engagement, as well as loyalty to the employer supporting their efforts. Productivity also increases as women are provided the time to schedule lactation around their work duties.

3. Healthcare savings

This doesn’t mean your healthcare premiums are necessarily going to decrease, but you will likely see dollars saved because breastfed infants tend to be healthier than those who aren’t.

That translates to fewer sick days taken by employees who would otherwise have to miss work to run little ones to the doctor.

4. Enhanced public image

Your brand is shaped by what people think of your company, and its personality becomes known quickly through word of mouth and social media.

If employees, or prospective employees, get wind that you treat employees unfairly – and lack of lactation support falls into this category – you may soon fall victim to poor recruiting and retention efforts. But let the word spread that you’re a breastfeeding advocate, and you may have more top talent seeking employment with you than you have jobs to fill.

Creating the best space possible

Just as you provide your employees with the tools they need to do their jobs well, you need to give more than lip service to the needs of lactating mothers. Creating a private, pleasant place to express milk isn’t difficult, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. It just requires a little planning and forethought.

  • Don’t expect mothers to pump milk in the company bathroom. It’s not conducive to lactation needs, and it’s against the law. Set aside a private space that’s shielded from view and free from intrusion by others.
  • Get creative with the space you have. You can set aside an office specifically for lactation, or consider having a modular space built, which can be done for little expense. Just be sure that the space is not going to be used for purposes other than lactation.
  • A sink is needed to wash pumping equipment, so if your lactation space doesn’t have one, be sure one is nearby. Provide a refrigerator, even a small one, to store milk, and a cupboard to hold equipment. Soft lighting, an electrical outlet, a table and a recliner are nice touches that demonstrate your care and support for your employees.
  • Proactive employers might even consider furnishing pumping equipment, which can be expensive and bulky, for use by lactating moms.
  • Flexible schedules allow moms time to express milk. Many companies add their lactation room to their online meeting room calendar, so mothers can schedule times discreetly and conveniently.

Formalize your support of breastfeeding moms by developing and distributing a written policy that outlines your support. Along with the policy, you can add information on the benefits of breastfeeding and provide it to all your employees.

Being proactive in your support of breastfeeding moms complies with the law and helps position your company as a family-friendly employer.

For more guidance on navigating the complexities of employment law, download our free e-book, Employment law: are you putting your business at risk?

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