August is World Breastfeeding Month and a time when the world celebrates breastfeeding and builds awareness and support. This year the theme is Breastfeeding and Work: “Let’s Make It Work” which aims to empower and support all women to successfully balance work and child-rearing, an important part of which is breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests breastfeeding for at least one year due to numerous health benefits to mom and baby. Studies show that breastfed infants are less likely to develop ear infections, respiratory illnesses, diabetes, some childhood cancers and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and less likely to become obese later in life and compared to formula fed infants. However, returning to work is a significant barrier to breastfeeding, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, who in a 2011 Call to Action noted that lack of breastfeeding support in the workplace leads moms to premature weaning. “Breast milk provides the best possible nutrition for an infant and the numerous health benefits improve when a baby is only fed breast milk and the length of time increases beyond six months of age. Workplaces that accommodate breastfeeding mothers help support moms to avoid using formula and continue breastfeeding for a longer time.” said Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment breastfeeding specialist Stacy Miller.
Colorado Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has been providing breastfeeding education and support in Colorado for the last 40 years. WIC supports low-income breastfeeding mothers by providing highly nutritious food packages purchased at participating grocery stores with WIC checks, free access to breastfeeding information and counseling, breast pumps, community resources and referrals, and Breastfeeding Peer Counselors. WIC dietitians, nurses and educators provide information to mothers on how to be successful with breastfeeding immediately after birth and help breastfeeding mothers find support at home, work and in their communities. Additionally, WIC informs mothers of their right to breastfeed in public and laws that mandate workplace accommodation for nursing mothers. WIC regularly engages and encourages employers in their communities to accommodate and support breastfeeding mothers by explaining state laws and employer benefits, and providing local and national resources to aid in accommodation.
Colorado’s Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act requires Colorado employers to provide employees with “reasonable unpaid break time” to express breast milk or permission to use paid break time and/or meal time to express breast milk. “Many employers are not aware that Colorado law preempts federal law and requires employers with one or more employees to provide breastfeeding accommodations and break time for two years after the birth of the baby,” said Miller. Women need to express milk about every 3 hours, or two to three times during a typical work day. According to the law, employers must make “reasonable efforts” to provide a private place, which is not a bathroom, for an employee to express milk. If a small room cannot be temporarily designated, there are many creative options to comply with the law.
Is it worth it for the employer? Investing in a worksite lactation support program can yield substantial benefits for a business. Being family-friendly brings a business a 3:1 Return on Investment through lower health care costs, lower employee absenteeism rates (due to healthier moms, dads and babies), lower turnover rates, and higher employee productivity and loyalty. A positive, accepting attitude from management, supervisors, and coworkers helps breastfeeding employees feel confident in their ability to continue working while breastfeeding.
World Breastfeeding Month is a great time for employers to highlight the support they provide to families by sharing with all employees their lactation support policy and the business advantages a lactation program brings to the organization to utilize the valuable breastfeeding information and resources available:
- Aspen Valley Hospital, 970.544.1251 email@example.com
- local WIC office1-800-688-7777
Heather Knott, RN-IBCL