LIMA — Administering a grant to increase work place accommodations of breastfeeding moms, Shelly Miller realized her own employer could make improvements on the front.
“It’s always been welcome here,” said Miller, coordinator of the Creating Healthy Communities grant at Allen County Public Health. “But we didn’t have a written policy, and we didn’t have a designated space.”
Now they have both, signaling to female employees the agency supports breastfeeding when they return to work after maternity leave.
Providing reasonable break time for breastfeeding moms to pump at work has been required under federal law since 2010. This year, the Health Department, Activate Allen County, Allen County Children First Council and Allen County Women, Infants and Children are increasing their work with employers to improve those accommodations.
Breastfeeding drops off significantly when mothers return to work, said Lori Nester, breastfeeding coordinator for Allen County WIC and also a member of the Activate Allen County breastfeeding committee.
Nationally, nearly 75 percent of women had ever breastfed their babies born in 2012. However, only 44 percent of women are still breastfeeding by the time the baby was 6 months old. Ohio was below the national average in 2012, with 67 percent of mothers ever breastfeeding, and 40 percent at six months. Ohio has perennially low scores in breastfeeding.
Research shows women who return to work after maternity leave are more successful at breastfeeding if their employer has a lactation support program in place, Miller said.
A strong business case can be made for lactation support, Nester said. Breastfed babies are sick less often, and when they are sick, are sick for less time, which means less time off for moms and dads. Babies who are sick less help keep down health insurance costs. Women who feel supported in their decision to breastfeed are happier, more productive, more loyal employees, Nester said.
The Creating Healthy Communities project of Allen County Public Health partnered this year with Tuttle Services, Inc., Wright Distribution, Allen County Educational Services Center and Allen County Children Services to develop, adopt and implement breastfeeding policies at their businesses.
Through the program, employers created written policies, designated space for expressing breast milk and received breastfeeding supplies and equipment (breast pumps, glider rocking chair/ottomans, small refrigerators, and informational materials and literature for breastfeeding).
Allen County Public Health is looking for four new employers to go through the program in 2014. It will also conduct Business Case for Breastfeeding trainings on compliance with the law for breastfeeding next year, Miller said.
Breastfeeding support can be extensive; some large companies are implementing plans as part of overall wellness efforts, and even including lactation consultants. A space can be dedicated, with pumps and kits for individuals, if a business employs a large number of child-bearing age, Nester said.
However, it need not be elaborate. The space must be clean and private, and it cannot be a bathroom. If a woman has the ability, she can lock her own office door and pump. But she can also use any room with the capacity to lock the door behind her.
Women who plan to breastfeed should talk with their employer while they are pregnant, and not wait until they have come back from maternity leave. Having a plan in place will remove some of the return-to-work stress, Nester said.
Women should act as a resource, going in with a plan for a space and structuring breaks that work with their jobs. They also can explain a little about lactation: Women will need to pump more often early in an infant’s life. As their babies get older, women will need to pump less. Some women pump an abundant amount of milk easily, others need longer amount of time, and a woman won’t know that until she has had her baby. Also, the baby’s health at birth could affect breastfeeding and the need to pump.
“The longer a new mom has for a maternity leave, the better off she’s going to be when she returns to work,” Nester said. “At six weeks, you’re just getting your feet back under you. We’ve worked with women who need to return to work two or three weeks after their birth. You’re still recovering from the birth at that point, but they do it, because they need the job. We just ask employers to realize there is more intense months for pumping early, and then it’s reduced.”