Employers reap benefits from supporting nursing mothers

Mary Cornforth Cawood
Mary Cornforth Cawood

Women comprise 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, and 70 percent of these women have children younger than 18 years old. Additionally, 62 percent of women who gave birth in the last year are a part of the labor force. These statistics show the importance of supporting nursing mothers in the workplace.

Federal law requires that employers provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after child’s birth each time such employee has a need to express the milk.” The Colorado Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act requires public and private employers who have one or more employees to provide reasonable unpaid break time or permit an employee to use paid break time, meal time or both each day to allow the employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to two years after the child’s birth.

In addition to following the law, supporting nursing mothers is good for business. The New York State Department of Health and U.S. Department of Health’s Making It Work for Employers found:

Healthier babies and moms lower health care costs. Mutual of Omaha found that its newborn health care costs are three times less when employees participate in a lactation program, saving $2,146 per employee.

Lactation accommodations reduce absenteeism related to infant illness. Cigna found a 77 percent reduction in lost work time since babies who receive their mother’s milk are healthier. The company has saved more than $60,000 a year in lower absenteeism rates.

Supporting nursing mothers can also lead to lower turnover rates. A nine-company study found the average return work rate is 94 percent when a lactation program is provided.

Employees are more productive and loyal when employers provide time and space for nursing mothers to express milk at work.

No matter the size of your business, there are things you can do to not only comply with the law, but also make nursing mothers feel supported at work.

The first step is to designate a private area for nursing mothers to express milk. In doing so, consider the following:

Employees should never be expected to express milk in a restroom because restrooms are unsanitary, usually lack appropriate electrical connections and don’t provide a place to comfortably operate a breast pump.

Involve facilities management staff and at least one breastfeeding employee experienced in milk expression when evaluating your options.

The space doesn’t have to be large. Rooms as small as 4 feet by 5 feet can accommodate a chair and a small table or shelf.

Ideally, the space should have an electrical outlet and can be locked from the inside.

It’s helpful if the space is located near hot and cold water for washing hands, pump attachments and containers.

A seldom-used space near a women’s restroom, employee lounge or other areas where a sink is available would work well.

If there is no available space, consider allowing employees to express milk in a conference room, vacant office, storeroom or a dressing room. If your company has few female employees, a locked office space offers a good option.

Taking the time and resources to designate a private space for nursing mothers will not only make your employees feel more appreciated, but also help your bottom line.

For additional resources to support nursing mothers in your workplace visit the Web sites at: