Breastfeeding moms provide valuable life-giving and life-saving nutrition to newborn infants and babies, and now employers are being asked to step up and facilitate their efforts, efforts that ultimately can save dollars spent on healthcare and lost productivity.
Brenda Bandy, program director for the Kansas Business Case for Breastfeeding, showed area business people why providing adequate lactation support could pay off for them at a luncheon program sponsored by the BCHD Thursday, Sept. 20.
The payoff for employers is threefold.
“By providing women the time and space they need without discrimination, the end result is healthy employees, healthy babies, and a healthy business,” Bandy said.
Breastfeeding has an affect on the bottom line, she said, and investment in lactation support ultimately pays off three to one.
Breastfeeding babies get sick less often than formula fed babies, so supporting a mother’s decision to breastfeed could mean fewer days missed due to infant illness in the first year. It also means fewer sick-visits to the doctor, which helps keep health insurance expenses down. Allowing the employee to express milk when needed also lowers the risk the nursing mother could become engorged with milk, a painful condition, and possible develop an infection that will mean a trip to the doctor’s office and lowering productivity.
Bandy cited a study by Cigna Global Health Insurance that found a 77 percent reduction in lost work time due to illness of children and mothers who continued to breastfeed compared to those who chose not to or to stop after six weeks.
Finally, employers stand to gain loyalty from an employee that feels supported, which could mean lower turnover rates.
“In most businesses, six in 10 mothers will come back to work following a six-week maternity leave,” Bandy said. “That jumps to eight in 10 choosing to return to work where there is adequate lactation support.”
For many employers, one of the biggest expenses of labor is searching for, hiring and training new employees.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which was signed into law and took effect March 23, 2010, amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and required employers to provide “reasonable break time for a (non-exempt) employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”
According to the law:
• Employers need to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.
• A reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother
• While employers are not required to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk, if they already provide compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time.
• The employee must be completely relieved from duty or else the time must be compensated as work time applies.
Bandy described a range of place options. While some employers who anticipate repeated use may designate a separate room decorated and outfitted with amenities including a comfortable chair, commercial breast pump, and bulletin board for posting photos of babies, other employers with only an occasional need may opt for simply allowing the employee to use an office space uninterrupted as needed.
“Employers simply need to make sure the regulations are met,” she said.
Some creative solutions included screening off a corner of an existing breakroom, or repurposing an existing filing room to provide the comfort and privacy needed to successfully express.
Bathroom stalls are inappropriate, plus the law specifically states they are not acceptable, Bandy said. While they are private, they are unsanitary.
“Breast pumps are cumbersome, and need to placed on a flat surface,” she said. “Milk needs to be kept clean and stored properly as soon as it is collected.” And, a comfortable chair and perhaps a picture of baby help with the lactation process.
Some employers have attempted a compromise by removing a toilet from a handicapped stall and replacing it with a chair and a small desk or table,she said, but the space still requires a floor to ceiling barrier.
Employers should be proactive and set a time to discuss the employees needs ahead of time, Bandy said. One of the best times is when the employee wishes to discuss maternity leave.
“A new mother is more likely to feel good about coming back to work if they already have a plan worked out ahead of time,” Bandy said.
This is also a time to discuss how breaks will be handled. While some mothers may only need to express milk once or twice a day, others may need a little more frequency at first. Some co-workers may be resentful at first that they will be required to cover for the lactating mother during a break.
“It’s helpful to remember that breaks can be anticipated, while it can be very disruptive and inconvenient when an employee is forced to take a sick day to deal with an unwell child,” she said. It’s important for employers and co-workers to understand that production of milk occurs continuously and can’t be scheduled for non-work hours. In order to continue to produce what the baby needs, the employee will need to encourage the process by expressing whenever full. Also, as the babies begins to eat solid food, lactation begin to slow to compensate. Breaks, too, begin to lessen in frequency. A plan should be in place, so if the employee needs to be relieved by another co-worker during a break, there is little disruption as possible.
“Employers need to set the tone with their employees,” Bandy said. An effective way to do this, is to create a policy, or include wording within the company sexual harassment policy that addresses breastfeeding support.
“If co-workers crack jokes or become irritated when the employee needs to express, it can cause her to decide to stop before her goal, which puts her child at risk. Employers need to make it clear what will not be tolerated,” she said.
Babies at work
One alternative that 14 state agencies in Kansas have implemented, including the Department of Transportation, is a “Babies at Work” program. Parents can bring their babies to work with them for the first six months of life, or until crawling, whichever comes first, Bandy said. Again, by incorporating the program into workplace policy, it has been widely accepted and appreciated by both management and employees, she said. Nursing mothers who take part can direct-feed their babies. There are 6,850 employees eligible to take part in the program, and at least 270 babies have been brought to work to date.
Sample language for policy can be found at kansasbusinesscase.com. The website also offers examples of approved spaces. Grants are also available to help area businesses implement a lactation support program, and application can be obtained online.
The website babiesatwork.org offers information on how to set up a program, as well as benefits to business, the community, and families.