Why Breastfeeding Matters, and Why Employers Should Care
Here are the facts:
- 83% of mothers in the U.S. choose to breastfeed after giving birth
- Mothers returning to work are more than twice as likely to quit breastfeeding as mothers who stay at home
This decision for working mothers to quit breastfeeding is made despite the massive health benefits to both mother and child. Breastfed babies have higher IQs, fewer ear infections, fewer allergies, fewer cavities, better vision, better speech development, and a decreased chance of developing bacterial and viral infections. Additionally, breastfeeding protects against childhood obesity, diabetes, SIDS, asthma, eczema, colitis, multiple sclerosis, and some forms of childhood cancer. For mothers, breastfeeding helps the uterus to resume its normal shape and size more quickly, and it reduces postpartum blood loss. It also reduces the risk of postpartum depression and a host of other diseases including type-2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.
So why the massive disconnect between breastfeeding mothers who stay at home vs. breastfeeding mothers who return to work? Look no further than a lack of support for breastfeeding women in the workplace.
At the bare minimum under Federal Law, all employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) are required to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breastmilk for her nursing child. This right extends for one year after the child’s birth, and break time must be given each time the employee has the need to express her milk, i.e. as frequently as needed. Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by the employee to express her breastmilk. That said, not all employers comply with this “bare minimum” standard.
Furthermore, many states, and even municipalities, have stricter laws in terms of supporting breastfeeding mothers.
For example, under Colorado law, the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act requires public and private employers, who have one or more employees, to provide reasonable unpaid break time or permit an employee to use paid break time, meal time, or both, each day to allow the employee to express breastmilk for her nursing child for up to two years after the child’s birth.
And in San Francisco, under the Lactation in the Workplace Ordinance (LWO), employers must provide employees with lactation breaks and a lactation location, must have a policy that explains how employees should go about requesting a lactation accommodation, and must keep all lactation accommodation requests on file for a period of three years. The LWO also defines minimum standards for lactation accommodation spaces, requires that tenant improvements in buildings designated for certain uses include lactation rooms, and outlines lactation accommodation best practices.
Not only are many state and local laws more stringent, but the federal law requirement of break time for nursing mothers to express breastmilk does not preempt State laws that provide greater protections to employees. In short, employers must comply with the more rigid of the two laws. But again, employers often fail to comply with state law, let alone federal law.
But here’s the good news for employers who not only comply with all applicable lactation laws, but who also implement corporate lactation support programs. According to a policy statement issued by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), the AAP concludes that for every dollar employers invest in developing lactation support programs, they will see a 200% to 300% return on investment.
Additional benefits reaped by employers who implement corporate lactation support programs include:
- Lower turnover rates
- Earlier returns from maternity leave
- Reduced health care costs
- Higher productivity and loyalty
- Positive public relations
- Decrease in legal liability
- Increases in employee morale
In fact, companies with comprehensive lactation support programs have a post-maternity retention rate of 94%, compared to the national average of just 59%. Yet only 6% of companies nationally have such programs in place.
So why aim to meet only the “bare minimum” in terms of lactation law compliance when there is so much to be gained by implementing a comprehensive corporate lactation support program. Lactation support programs are not only in the best interest of the breastfeeding mother and nursing child, they are also in the best interest of the employer. They are a company’s best return on investment, they support the health and well-being of mom and baby, and they are the most impactful program a company can put in place to show its working mothers that it cares.
Want to learn more about our comprehensive lactation support programs? Want to ensure you are staying up to date with the law? Contact MommaWork today! Together we can change the landscape surrounding workplace support for breastfeeding mothers!
Nicole Mor, JD, is a working mother of two, lactation law specialist, and the VP of Legal and Compliance for MommaWork.