A friend of mine shared this gorgeous poster of working mothers demanding the freedom to feed by Phoebe Wahl with me.
Working, nursing moms still have a lot to fight for, but the Health Care Reform requires employers to support nursing mothers in a couple of ways: Employers must provide reasonable break time to express breast milk for one year after her child’s birth each time she has the need; and a private place, other than a bathroom, for her to do so.
Texas has been a shepherd in creating worksite legislation for nursing moms. The state established a health and safety code which includes the Mother-Friendly business designation nearly two decades ago.
Since then, the Mother-Friendly Worksite Program has designated 1120 businesses Mother-Friendly, says Texas State Breastfeeding Coordinator and Texas Mother-Friendly Worksite Program (TMFWP) administrator Julie Stagg, MSN, RN, IBCLC, RLC.
Becoming designated requires the following written into an employee worksite lactation support policy:
Flexible work schedules including scheduling breaks and work patterns to provide time for expression of milk,
Access to a private location(s) that is not a bathroom, for the purpose of milk expression,
Access to a nearby clean and safe water source and a sink for washing hands and rinsing out any breast pump equipment and
Access to hygienic storage options for mothers to safely store breastmilk. [Retrieved from: http://www.texasmotherfriendly.org/getting-designated]
Asking for basic breastfeeding support can be a difficult thing for working moms to do. Often times there is a communication gap between employers’ perception and employees’ reality.
Employers may not recognize worksite lactation support as significant because they are not familiar with the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.
“Sometimes they don’t understand how work plays an important role in a mother meeting her breastfeeding goals,” Stagg says.
Other times employers don’t think to create a worksite support system because it isn’t brought to their attention.
“Some moms have asked for support and had a horrible experience, but most are not talking at all because a lot of moms fear job security,” Stagg explains.
In the program’s infancy, TMFWP conducted focus groups with employers and employees as part of the development process.
One focus group found that 80 percent of people agreed or strongly agreed that supporting nursing employees was “the right thing to do.”
Another group of 30 employers with multiple worksites across Texas found that 75 percent of co-workers were supportive of a breastfeeding policy even though managers initially perceived a negative reaction from co-workers.
Stagg calls the opposition a “vocal minority.”
“They will always be there,” she says. “But that’s where the law really comes in handy. It’s not disputable.”
Stagg says employers often express concern about money and space. Often times though, businesses already meet the requirements before applying for designation.
And if not, “You just get creative and figure it out,” Stagg says.
A woman writes on TMFWP’s website: “My boss offered me an empty office to pump in. Unfortunately, the door didn’t lock, but my “MILKING IN PROGRESS” sign kept ’em out!”
Stagg emphasizes the significance of return on investment because “businesses that proactively support breastfeeding see reduced health-care costs and lower turnover.” [Retrieved from: http://www.texasmotherfriendly.org/everyone-benefits]
In fact, Dr. Melissa Bartick and Arnold Reinhold state that businesses with worksite lactation programs experience up to a $3 return for every $1 invested in lactation support in The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: a pediatric cost analysis.
Stagg says that because nursing mothers spend less time at home with sick children, co-workers aren’t forced to cover extra hours which reduces their stress levels.
Becoming Mother-Friendly designated communicates a supportive environment overall which attracts qualified, loyal employees. Stagg says that’s most important.
When employers find their programs successful, they are given the option to add components to their policy which might include:
Extending program offerings to male employees and their partners
Paid lactation breaks
Breastfeeding and/or parenting classes
Onsite lockers where mothers may store pumping supplies
Electronic scheduling system where mothers may reserve the lactation room [Retrieved from: http://www.texasmotherfriendly.org/beyond-the-basics]
TMFWP offers a Silver and Gold Mother-Friendly designation for employers who continue to add supportive components to their policies.
For other states looking to develop a similar program, Stagg suggests creating many partnerships to get people excited about the initiative.
“If you can help spread the word through existing programs, that’s a really great thing,” she says.
The program’s website offers businesses a step- by- step tool complete with downloadable PDFs to comfortably begin the designation process.
Texas families searching for breastfeeding information and support can visit http://breastmilkcounts.com/.
Where are the mother-friendly worksites in your state?