Written by: Heidi Williams, MPH, RD with Tri-County Health Department
What is one of the top reasons that many moms quit breastfeeding? Returning to work or school! According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce. In 2014, 57.3% of new mothers were in the workforce, an increase of 80% over the past 20 years. Working outside the home negatively impacts both breastfeeding initiation and duration. It can be challenging for some moms to balance breastfeeding and working. What many do not realize however, is that there are laws in place to help them!
Laws that support breastfeeding moms
In 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended and now requires employers to accommodate breastfeeding moms who want to pump milk for their infants while at work. The law states that employers must provide reasonable time and a private space (that is not a bathroom) to express milk. In 2008, the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act was passed in Colorado which provides greater protections for moms. This law requires all employers to:
- Provide reasonable unpaid break time, or allow an employee to use paid break and/or meal time, to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to 2 years after the child’s birth
- Make reasonable efforts to provide a nursing mother with a private location in close proximity to her work area (other than a toilet stall) in which to express milk
- Not discriminate against women for expressing milk in the workplace
Moms can ease the transition of going back to work by planning ahead. They need to learn as much as they can before the baby’s birth – learn how to get off to a good start with breastfeeding, learn about their rights, research day care options and talk with their employer about their needs. Employers may not know how to support a mom and most will be happy to do so when they learn how easy it is. Moms can do much of the creative problem solving themselves like finding a place they can pump and figuring out how pumping can work in their schedule.
Starting the conversation
There are many ways a mom can start a conversation with her employer. Part of the conversation with employers and co-workers should include information about the health benefits of breastfeeding and the benefits support brings to a business. Providing support to a breastfeeding mom benefits a business’s bottom line - lower health care costs due to healthier moms and infants, less time away from work for a mom to care for a sick infant, lower turnover rates and greater productivity and loyalty.
What if a mom is not getting support from her employer?
If a mom feels like she is not being supported as required by Colorado law she needs to find an advocate to help. Moms can document what is happening in the workplace and ask their employer to go to mediation to try and resolve issues. The Colorado Breastfeeding Coalition can provide information, support and resources such as recommendations for Colorado attorneys with experience in worksite breastfeeding issues.
Going above and beyond the state law
Some employers have created broad breastfeeding policies and programs to support their employees. Some provide options like access to lactation support counseling, breastfeeding classes, breast pumps and peer support groups. Some employers have implemented family friendly policies such as paid maternity leave, on-site daycare and Infant at Work programs allowing parents to be with their young infants for a longer period of time after birth or throughout the work day.
Infant at Work program participant, Jaclyn Blitz (Tri-County Health Department Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) and her daughter Kaiah.
Many moms breastfeed successfully after going back to work. Employers and moms need to be aware of the laws in place and the resources available to create a successful comprehensive plan to make breastfeeding work at work!
Want more information? Check out these resources:
Heidi Williams, MPH, RD with Tri-County Health Department