Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Who Cares About Breastfeeding and the Working Mother?

This is a follow-up post to the one I wrote yesterday titled "Maternity Leave in the US is Pitiful Compared to Other Countries."  In that post I stated that shorter maternity leaves are associated with decreased breastfeeding.  We as a country need to push for better legislation to encourage longer maternity leaves which will increase breastfeeding rates.  However, why should someone who is not breastfeeding care?  Breastfeeding is in the best interest of the country as a whole and not just for women with babies.

In February, the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirmed their breastfeeding guidelines.  They recommend "exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant."  This recommendation is "supported by the health outcomes of exclusively breastfed infants and infants who never or only partially breastfed. Breastfeeding provides a protective effect against respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, and allergies including asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis. The rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by over a third in breastfed babies, and there is a 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in adolescent and adult obesity in breastfed vs. non-breastfed infants. Approximately 75 percent of newborn infants initiate breastfeeding."

The Department of Health and Human Services published a booklet entitled "The Business Case for Breastfeeding:  For Business Managers."  In this booklet, they make the case for supporting breastfeeding mothers by showing a "return of investment."  They state that:
1. "Breastfeeding employees miss work less often."  75% of mothers of formula fed infants missed 1 day of work due to an illness in their infant compared to 25% of mothers of breastfed infants.
2.  "Breastfeeding lowers healthcare costs.  Babies who are not breastfed visit the physician more often, spend more days in the hospital, and require more prescriptions than breastfed infants."
3. "Investing in a worksite lactation support program can yield substantial dividends to the company."  Lower turnover rates are a result.  "Employees are more likely to return to work after childbirth when their workplace provides a supportive environment for continued breastfeeding.  Being able to keep experienced employees after childbirth means lowering or eliminating the costs a company otherwise would incur to hire temporary staff or to recruit, hire, and train replacement staff, both of which involve additional lost revenue while getting these new staff up to speed."

Even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published information in support of breastfeeding in the workplace.  Yet despite all of this information, many in the public do not understand the importance of breastfeeding and being able to continue pumping after a mother returns to work.

Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand.  If a mother is not able to express breastmilk while at work, her body will simply stop producing milk.  Pumping while at work will "trick" the body into thinking the baby is nursing.  Thankfully in March 2010, a new federal law went into effect which requires an employer to provide "a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and 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 an employee to express breast milk."

The National Conference of State Legislatures also has published a list of states and their individual laws regarding breastfeeding and pumping when at work.  Some states actually have better provisions than the federal requirements.  There are also 12 states that exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty.

Are you apprehensive about approaching your boss or employer about breastfeeding/pumping after returning to work?  The La Leche League has some helpful hints published on their website.  The United States Breastfeeding Committee also has some great resources for employers and employees about breastfeeding at work.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health is also a great resource.  It is also best to educate your co-workers about the importance of breastfeeding and the continuation of it after returning to work.  I breastfed my baby for 22 months and pumped at work until he was 18 months old.  It was important to me and I made it a point to inform my co-workers and my management about my intentions.  I think education is key to making the transition back to work easier and to facilitate the continuation of breastfeeding.

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