In the current economy, employers are not only slashing jobs but also health benefits and other perks that were formerly used to recruit employees. But some companies might be missing the boat on a crucial benefit for new moms, one that costs employers nothing: Allowing new mothers to breastfeed and/or pump at work.
According to Aly Frei, director of the Becoming Parents Program (BPP), a Seattle-based parent education company, a greater number of new moms are returning to work today depressed, angry and resentful that they can’t breastfeed longer. They have to get back to work because of the economy - but it comes at a painful cost to themselves and their baby. “Some are even frantic that they are short-changing their child’s health because they have to work,” says Frei. “That’s no good for the employer, the employee or the baby.”
Research shows that women who continue to breastfeed after returning to work miss less work because of sick babies than do non-breastfeeding mothers. And, according to the La Leche League International, moms who are allowed to breastfeed or pump at work also tend to return to work sooner and have a higher morale than non-breastfeeding new mothers. According to the La Leche League, individual U.S. households save nearly $1,000 in health-care costs during the baby’s first year of life if the mother nurses.
Allyis, a Kirkland-based personnel company, accommodates breastfeeding employees. According to Mark Hewitt, director of human resources, company leaders recognize that by supporting its employee parents through tangible benefits such as child-care reimbursement and allowing them the time and space to nurse or pump, these employees are more attentive to their jobs and happier. Hewitt says supporting breastfeeding mothers is a no-brainer for the company. Allowing new mothers the space and the privacy to nurse or pump was a natural extension of the company’s family-friendly culture, which includes work-from-home options for new parents.
So just how important is it to a new mother to continue breastfeeding when she returns to work? Frei, a business director and new mother herself, says it’s huge. “I work four 10-hour days, and my nanny brings my (now 9-month-old) son to me for one feeding each day,” she says. “He is thrilled with the outing, I feel a great sense of reprieve while he’s here, and I am more productive when he’s not here as a result.”
Frei said she was worried about returning to work after the baby was born, but being able to breastfeed during the day in a supportive environment made the reality of going back exponentially more palatable. “Without the freedom to breastfeed at work, I would resent my job and feel anxious that I couldn’t do what is best for my baby,” Frei says. “Pumping was very difficult, time consuming and often unproductive for me. If I had to rely exclusively on that, I may not have been able to continue breastfeeding.
“Allowing moms to breastfeed at BPP, Inc. is among the factors that keep my employees so happy on the job,” she said. “I have almost no employee turnover and I’m sure our value of involved parenthood is a significant reason for that.”
Karen Dawson, owner of Dawson Communications Group, lives with her husband and children on the Eastside.
Resources for breastfeeding at work:
Breastfeeding at Work, La Leche League International
Tips for employers to create a breastfeeding-friendly workplace from the Maternity Care Coalition
Support for mothers and employers from the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington
Tips for successful pumping at work:
Ask early. Find out what accommodations are available to you as a breastfeeding mother before you go on maternity leave. This gives employers time to think about it, if they haven’t already, and gives them a chance to create a supportive environment.
Be prepared. Make sure you have the proper equipment if pumping, and have ample time in your schedule to breastfeed or pump successfully. This may mean adjusting your schedule so that you can get to work earlier and/or stay later to allow time during the day to breastfeed or pump.
Communicate. Let bosses know what you need — and also what you will give. Show them that you have a plan and how you’ll execute it. Ask them if they have questions. Communication will help all of you feel comfortable with the arrangement.
Assume the best! Just because employers may not have a specific room for breastfeeding or a specific arrangement for new mothers, don’t assume they are not supportive. Assume that they will be willing to accommodate you. It may just take some work on your part to present the need and provide a solution.