For new moms, finding a space for breastfeeding during the working day can be a source of stress and discomfort.
Although the Affordable Care Act requires an employer to provide a dedicated place and time for a woman to pump at work, only 40% have a space that isn’t a bathroom, according to a study by the medical journal Women’s. Health Issues. Nineteen percent of mothers said they felt pressure from work to stop breastfeeding altogether, according to a OnePoll survey.
For some women, working from home has been an antidote to uncomfortable conversations about breastfeeding and a lack of adequate housing. Yet for the millions of women who couldn’t work remotely or who are now returning to the office, breastfeeding support must continue to evolve, says Sascha Mayer, CEO of Mamava, a provider of lactation capsules.
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“COVID has made more employers want to provide the support in order to retain employees,” Mayer says. “There’s more momentum around providing these supports to keep employees happy and engaged.”
Mamava lactation pods – mobile, self-contained rooms where mums can breastfeed, plug in their breast pump or use a model supplied by Mamava – can be erected in office space or in areas more accessible to the public such as airports, hospitals, universities and sports arenas. Moms can locate thousands of breastfeeding spaces in all 50 states through the company’s app. The pods, which start at $9,500, are also used by employers such as Amazon, Apple and Toyota.
Mayer says employers should consider pumping out accommodations long before a new mom needs to use it. The modules can help create more inclusive workplaces and help employers meet compliance standards.
The CEO recently spoke with Employee Benefits News about normalizing breastfeeding, the challenges working women face when returning to work, and how COVID helped their team rethink Mamava’s business model.
How does Mamava approach supporting breastfeeding and expression in the workplace and beyond?
With Mamava, while we wanted to create something that didn’t exist before, we had these three audiences in mind. So at the heart was that parent or mother who pumps in large, busy places and may also need to use the space to breastfeed. The second audience is the institution running the module – we needed it to be easy for employers and institutions to adopt. Then the third audience is the wider culture, for colleagues and people using the space to support breastfeedingand make it a common conversation and understood by people.
When you talk to employers, how have their attitudes about breastfeeding changed?
We always say that our public places are like pollinators. They did the education for us, because customers come and say, we’ve seen the Mamava pod in the wild. Also, many employers are driven by compliance – a city like San Francisco, for example, every employer must have a lactation plan. It doesn’t have to be a designated space, but you do need to have accommodation. So one of the things that’s changed is really understanding compliance and knowing that it’s not a problem you have to fix just when your employees come back to work — that should really be built into your policies.
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What does the ideal support system look like for a new parent returning to the office and wanting to pump?
There obviously needs to be a setup for using the breast pump – a comfortable place to sit, a place to power the equipment. And while it’s often a chance for a new mom to multitask, check email, or take a conference call, we also encourage employees to use it as downtime. Sometimes you need free space to produce milk.
We also have a partnership with Medela, which is the largest pump manufacturer in the world, and the pumps themselves and accessories can be anchored in our pods or in lactation rooms. Then a mom doesn’t have to carry around that big kit of parts you have when you have the pump.
Employers should also have an established lactation policy with guidance in the employee handbook. Things like how to talk about breastfeeding, or what the law is. We provide content for parents themselves, around things like traveling for the first time and what to expect, what to pack, what your rights are with the TSA. All of these things make it less disruptive for the employee and therefore for the employer, providing all this support.
What benefits can employers expect when they implement these policies?
It’s a win-win with relatively little effort. Ultimately, we are going to save this employer money through medical and health benefits for both maternal and child health. And also for employee retention, we saw in the Great Resignation, a lot of those people are relatives. So there’s momentum around support to keep employees happy and engaged.