Breastfeeding support benefits moms and businesses

Katie Smith
Katie Smith

Motherhood presents rewards and challenges. The challenges mount when maternity leave ends and new moms face a list of tasks, from finding affordable and trustworthy care to figuring out a pumping and nursing schedule for those who choose to breastfeed their babies.

Returning to work can be a stressful time. Having a supportive workplace that empowers employees with a comfortable breastfeeding environment and encourages staff to advocate for their families can make a big difference for new mothers.

August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, which makes it a good time to review how employers can help new mothers return to work after maternity leave and make breastfeeding in the workplace a comfortable experience.

Providing employees break time and space to pump or breastfeed has been the law in Colorado since 2008. Under the provisions of the  Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, employers must provide reasonable time for a nursing mother to express milk for her child up to 2 years of age. Employers also must make reasonable efforts to provide a private space — not a toilet stall or restroom for nursing mothers — to pump or nurse.

Breastfeeding benefits the mother and her family. The advantages of breast milk to the newborn and mom include nutritionally balanced meals, nature’s first immunization, lower infant mortality and stronger bonds between moms and babies.

Breastfeeding also benefits businesses. Studies show that employers that support breastfeeding experience less absenteeism and lower health care costs due to shared antibodies from mom to baby via breast milk. That’s not to mention decreased employee turnover and increased loyalty and productivity.

Businesses can do a lot to create an atmosphere that supports employees who breastfeed. Owners and managers can start by talking to staff about how to best accommodate them and what’s reasonable for the organization. Consider whether you have the resources for a permanent lactation space or if flexible schedules and a mobile space might work better. Think about power, lighting, seating and milk storage. You want your employees to be comfortable and empowered to express milk.

A lot of mothers struggle to feel like they’re producing adequate milk for their babies. Create an environment that encourages them to pump as frequently as they need and enable them to reach out to area lactation consultants and nursing groups for additional support.

The Mesa County Public Health Women, Infant and Children program makes certified lactation consultants available to qualifying breastfeeding mothers through their children’s first year. Call 248-6900 or visit the website at www.health.mesacounty.us for more information.

A mother’s decision to breastfeed her child shouldn’t be inhibited by the demands of busy work schedules. Mothers who continue breastfeeding after returning to work need the support of their supervisors, co-workers and others in the workplace. Employers that provide a supportive environment give employees peace of mind as they return to work.