Employers make accommodations to support breastfeeding moms
While pregnant with her first child, Amber Flynn of Grand Forks did a lot of research about breastfeeding, and she was impressed.
“I was reading about all benefits — the antibodies that protect (babies) from disease and colds,” she said, as well as the nutrients passed from mother to baby that are good for infant development.
“I decided I would try for six months, up to a year.”
Since Emma’s birth in April, Flynn has remained committed to breastfeeding, even though it’s not easy, she said.
“It’s a good time to bond. When I’m feeding her, it’s such a special time, knowing that I’m the one giving her those nutrients, and I’m the only one who can give her that…
“I could go to the store and buy it, but that’s artificial.”
Plus, breastfeeding “definitely saves money,” she said. She estimates it amounts to about $1,500 a year.
As a new mom who works full-time at the UND Wellness Center, Flynn balances the demands of her job with the needs of her baby, who usually feeds seven or eight times a day.
She feels “fortunate” to have a supervisor who is “completely supportive” of breastfeeding, she said.
“UND is doing a really good job supporting the family unit and what that entails.”
When at work, Flynn pumps breast milk a couple of times a day. She locks her office door and closes the blinds for the 20 minutes it takes to express the milk, which she stores in a cooler in an employee break room.
During the workday, Emma is at day care, so Flynn provides breast milk for caregivers to feed her there.
Employers vary in their willingness to accommodate breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, said Mandy Burbank, registered dietician with the Grand Forks Health Department.
But support for the practice is slowly growing, nudged along perhaps by federal legislation, part of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” passed by Congress in 2010. It requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace for the first year of an infant’s life.
Such accommodations include providing time away from work and a private space — other than a bathroom — for mothers to nurse babies or to express breast milk, a refrigerated place to store it, and access to clean, running water.
“A lot of businesses are doing this already,” Burbank said. But “most worksites don’t know about the law and all that entails.”
The North Dakota Department of Health, for example, allows mothers to bring their newborns to work for the first six months, she said.
“That’s the most ideal situation because the mother can listen to the baby’s feeding cues and nurse on demand.”
Having the baby with you, or being able to express milk every few hours, is preferable from a health standpoint, she said.
“It’s best if Mom can keep that same schedule (of feeding) when she goes back to work.”
She understands, however, the challenge that some employers face in trying to support women who breastfeed or pump.
“Some businesses are not prepared to do that at work. If you have a convenience store, for instance, where would (mothers) do that?”
Having to fend for themselves, some women have resorted to using public bathrooms.
“A lot of places still think it’s OK for moms to go into restrooms to feed or pump,” she said.
That’s not an ideal option because of the multitude of airborne germs that contaminate such areas.
Some employers have to — and want to — accommodate nursing moms, but are unsure how they should go about doing it, she said.
Others “have gotten really creative. They’ve taken a supply closet and turned it into a room for nursing moms.”
Baby, mom and boss benefits
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding newborns during the first year of life, noting that the first six months are especially critical, said Burbank.
Babies who are breastfed are healthier, she said. They have fewer ear and respiratory infections, and stomach or digestive problems, and are at lower risk for obesity.
“If the employer has a lactation program, the babies don’t wean as early,” thus taking in those nutrients and antibodies for a longer time.
Employers benefit, too, she said.
“Productivity increases because nursing mothers do not have to miss work as often to care for a sick child.”
A member of the Greater Grand Forks Breastfeeding Coalition, Burbank received a grant last year from the North Dakota Cancer Coalition to promote lactation programs in Grand Forks workplaces.
She offered her services to employers who wanted to initiate a lactation program to benefit their employees. So far, 10 public and private organizations in Grand Forks have earned the designation as “infant-friendly” by meeting requirements of the program, she said.
The cancer coalition funded her community-oriented grant because it recognizes that efforts aimed at policy, environment and system change have the greatest impact on behavior, Burbank said.
The cancer coalition also backed her project because studies show mothers who breastfeed have lower risk for breast, cervical and ovarian cancer later in life, she said.
These moms also have lower rates of postpartum depression, diabetes and obesity.
Choosing to breastfeed poses a challenge, especially for moms who are employed outside the home.
In the evenings or on weekends, after feeding Emma, Flynn would pump extra milk to refrigerate or freeze.
“It’s not easy being a working mom and breastfeeding exclusively,” she said. “It takes a lot of work to pump during the day, and it’s stressful knowing that I can’t pump enough milk to keep up with her as she is growing.”
She and her husband, Aaron, decided recently to add a formula that’s designed to supplement breastfeeding.
The product is aimed at breastfeeding moms who are going back to work and can’t keep up with pumping or their (breast milk) supply is low, she said.
Emma “did great” with the formula, and Flynn is relieved.
“It’s less stressful now knowing that she has milk — or formula when they run out of milk at day care. I don’t have to worry about running there over my lunch break to feed her.”
She plans to breastfeed Emma when she is at home and use formula when her milk runs out “or to help me build up a supply of milk to freeze,” she said.
More working moms
At a time “when so many moms are in the workplace… it’s important to support moms who have challenges and provide resources to help them” in their effort to breastfeed, Burbank said.
The most ideal scenario includes employee and community support, she said.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 60 percent of women work outside the home and 78 percent of them work full time, she said.
North Dakota has among the highest percentage of moms who are working more than one job, she added.
She maintains that “breastfeeding should really be accepted and celebrated. It’s (a mother’s) right to feed this way.”
Employers that don’t have a lactation program “are setting moms up to fail.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
• More than $13 billion and 1,000 babies can be saved in the U.S. each year if nine out of 10 women breastfed exclusively for six months.
• For every 1,000 babies not breastfed, there is an excess of 2,033 physician visits, 212 days in the hospital and 609 prescriptions.
• Babies are healthier — they have lower rates of respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and lower rates of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
• Women who breastfeed lower their rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, postpartum depression, and they take less time off from work because their babies are healthier.
• Benefits to employers (who support breastfeeding): higher morale, loyalty and increased productivity and employee retention.