Breastfeeding support healthy for businesses as well as babies

Veronica Daehn Harvey

It’s no secret returning to work after having a baby can be difficult. Leaving a new baby at daycare, worrying about the child being properly cared for and fitting back into the workplace culture — let alone pre-pregnancy work clothes — all can feel overwhelming.

For women who choose to return to work after maternity leave, giving up breastfeeding doesn’t have to be another area of concern. On the contrary, women who continue to breastfeed their babies by pumping and storing breast milk while at work for later use actually save their companies money. Plus, it’s the law.

A 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom place for nursing mothers to express breast milk during the workday for one year after their children’s births.

Breastfeeding employees typically need no more than an hour a day to express milk. Each session usually takes 15 to 20 minutes. If an employee needs more time, employers can consider allowing that employee to come in early or stay late.

It’s worth it. Breastfeeding has all sorts of benefits for both families and businesses:

Breastfed babies have a lower risk of infections, illness and obesity. Those health benefits last well beyond infancy, especially for infants enrolled in daycare.

Breastfeeding mothers recover from pregnancy faster and have less risk of breast cancer.

Families save $3,000 to $4,000 a year in formula costs.

Healthier babies lower company health care costs.

Mothers and fathers of breastfed babies take fewer sick days. That’s because human milk boosts an infant’s immune system and protect against common illnesses and infections.

Companies that support breastfeeding employees retain their maternity work force at higher rates. Those companies often have two things in common: a dedicated space for pumping or nursing and worksite lactation support. Businesses should consider offering lunchtime prenatal classes, pamphlets with information about continuing to breastfeed once back at work and access to a lactation consultant during pregnancy.  

Employers unsure how to accommodate employees who are nursing can ask for help. An online tool kit is available at Personal consultations are also available. More information can be found at

Meanwhile, check out some more statistics:

Mothers of infants who are formula fed take one-day absences to care for their babies twice as often as mothers of breastfed infants, according to the American Journal of Health Promotion.

According to a study in Pediatrics, for every 1,000 babies not breastfed, there are 2,033 extra doctor visits, 212 extra days in the hospital and 609 extra prescriptions  — all for ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

When Cigna, an insurance company, conducted a two-year study of nearly 350 employees who participated in its lactation support program, it found annual savings of $240,000 in health care expenses, 62 percent fewer prescriptions and $60,000 savings in fewer absences.

At Mutual of Omaha, a lactation support program led to a retention rate of 83 percent of its maternity work force compared to a national average of 59 percent.

By helping nursing moms feel like the workplace is an ally in their choice to breastfeed their babies, families will stay healthier. Businesses will, too.

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