4 Tips for Creating a Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplace

Posted August 30, 2016 by Patricia Finnerty, MSc; Zhandra Levesque, MPH

Woman Pumping Breastmilk At Work
Workplaces need to provide accommodations for breastfeeding moms. 
This is one of a series of posts for National Breastfeeding Month about improving support for breastfeeding moms.   
During the first six months of babies’ lives, breast milk can provide all of the nutrients they need to thrive and grow, and it can still provide a good portion of energy well into their second year. The World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative works to ensure that hospitals support new moms in the early stages of breastfeeding so they are better prepared to exclusively breastfeed for those six months, which only 22.3 percent of American mothers maintain. 

While a good start at the hospital is great, and a focus area for several of NICHQ’s projects, that’s not the only place mothers need support: The workplace is a key environment for continued breastfeeding success. Working moms and their employers need to partner together to create a welcome, safe atmosphere to ensure expressing milk is possible and comfortable. 

At NICHQ, we practice what we preach and ensure that all of the moms on our team can meet their breastfeeding goals, which creates a foundation for a healthy beginning for a child’s long-term health. As we celebrate national Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August, here are some of the lessons we learned that helped create a breastfeeding-friendly workplace. 

Know the laws

As part of the Affordable Care Act, employers are required to provide break time and a private, non-bathroom space for breastfeeding and related activities. Many states also have their own laws and protections around breastfeeding as well. Employers need to comply with all regulations, and workers should be aware of their rights so they can get any accommodations that aren’t already provided.

Talk about solutions

Those laws are just minimums that all workplaces have to meet, but they are a good starting place for larger conversations about breastfeeding and how spaces can be adapted to support new moms. After all, women know what they need in order to feel comfortable and pump milk away from home, and employers know what can and can’t be done in order to change a setting, either logistically or policy wise. Talking about strategies is the only way to find one that works for everyone. 

Create flexibility and a schedule

To ensure that breastfeeding moms have time to pump and complete their work, they should talk to their employers about creating some flexibility while sticking to a regular schedule. For some moms, this could mean blocking three points in their calendar, or whatever frequency is most comfortable for them. This ensures that all responsibilities are handled during the work day without losing time to breastfeeding activities. 

Have the right resources

Besides a private, comfortable space, other resources can help accommodate breastfeeding moms and ensure that they can still participate in everyday operations. For instance, conference call lines can be created for every meeting so breastfeeding moms can call in and speak with their coworkers instead of being late or waiting to pump. Many workplaces already have operational tools that could be used to support new mothers, it’s just a matter of thinking about their needs and adapting those tools’ usage. 

All in all, breastfeeding support has to come from more than just healthcare providers immediately after a baby is born. Moms need to be comfortable and still be able to do their jobs well, and that starts with employers figuring out ways to create a welcoming environment.

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