Workplace Lactation Support Opportunities Abound

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 16, 2009

Washington, DC—With the release of The Shriver Report by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) reminds employers that family-friendly policies and programs that include worksite lactation support bring significant economic benefits to employers, while also improving health outcomes for mothers and babies.

The latest research from the Shriver Report shows that women now comprise half of the American workforce, with nearly 4 out of 10 women serving as the primary breadwinner in their families. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Immunization Survey, nearly 75% of new mothers initiate breastfeeding, however, rates of exclusive breastfeeding at six months and continued breastfeeding at 12 months are well below the national Healthy People 2010 goals. Returning to work can be a major hurdle for new mothers struggling to balance working and breastfeeding. Policies such as paid maternity leave, flexible work arrangements, and lactation support programs can make the difference. Currently, 24 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have legislation related to worksite support for breastfeeding, and national legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress.

According to Dr. Joan Younger Meek, a Florida pediatrician and USBC Chair, workplace breastfeeding support is not only the law in many states, it is also a “win-win-win” for employers, mothers, and babies. “Research is clear that breastfeeding has a profound impact on the health of both babies and their mothers,” says Dr. Meek. “Many are aware of its health benefits, however, employers may not realize that breastfeeding benefits companies as well. Babies who are breastfed are healthier, resulting in lower health care costs and lower absenteeism rates for parents. Their mothers are also healthier, with lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, and even cardiovascular disease later in life.”

An ideal workplace lactation support program includes a private area for women to breastfeed or express milk, time to express milk approximately every 3 hours during the work period, access to information and professional support from lactation consultants or other health experts, and support from supervisors and co-workers.

In its 2008 Benefits Survey, the Society for Human Resource Management found that one-fourth of respondent companies provided an onsite lactation room. Many companies have policies that allow employees to take 15-20 minute breaks two or three times during a typical work day to express milk. Some also provide breast pumps and onsite education and support. The payoff is significant, according to Meek. “Companies with lactation support programs experience higher employee retention and productivity.”

There are creative solutions for nearly every type of worksite and work situation, and breastfeeding coalitions in many states are actively working with employers to design programs tailored to their unique environments. “As the nation prepares for health care reform, breastfeeding support in the workplace is a natural fit,” says Dr. Meek. “Breastfeeding is the ultimate preventive health care strategy, and programs that enable women to meet their breastfeeding goals are well worth the investment!”

For more information about breastfeeding and to access copies of The Business Case for Breastfeeding resources produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, visit The National Women’s Health Information Center. To locate health care providers and knowledgeable breastfeeding support personnel that can offer assistance and answer questions about breastfeeding, visit the FAQs page on the USBC Web site.

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