Due to the shortage of formula, some new parents who might otherwise have given formula to their babies may have decided to breastfeed, if they are able, at least for now. But for employees who are breastfeeding their babies, returning to work can be a major barrier to breastfeeding.
Often, “people start breastfeeding, but it becomes too stressful and they give up,” said registered nurse Elaine-Marie Cannella, director of New York health management consulting firm WTW. For employers who are just beginning to focus on family well-being, she advised, “supporting nursing mothers through those critical months after returning to work can be a good place to start.”
Employers, for example, have found that breastfeeding support benefits help breastfeeding parents stay focused, productive and more likely to continue working.
This type of support is particularly important for new recruits who are at an age when starting a family is a major issue. Employees not currently using lactation benefits “will see that the company is providing them and supporting other employees,” said Marshall Staton, chief human resources officer for Aeroflow Healthcare, a medical equipment provider based in Toronto. Asheville, North Carolina.
The company has added lactation support services for its employees, including access to lactation consultants and online courses for breastfeeding parents, he said.
The benefits that make life easier for breastfeeding employees go beyond
basic requirements of federal lawunder which employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must provide the time and private space necessary to pump.
State and Local Breastfeeding Laws often have additional mandates and may apply to employers with less than 50 employees.
In California, for example, the labor code requires lactation rooms, other than a bathroom, to include a sink with running water and a refrigerator or cooler to store breast milk. Employers with less than 50 employees are only exempt if they can demonstrate that these requirements pose an undue hardship.
New York City requires companies with four or more workers to provide lactation space and create a written lactation accommodation policy, which must be given to workers when they are hired.
Beyond the Basics
Whether or not employers are subject to the FLSA or state and local breastfeeding laws, they should provide, at a minimum, a private place for new mothers to pump, business advisers recommend.
Ideally this would be a dedicated room with a lock on the door and a way to store pumped milk in a cooler, fridge or freezer. Going further, employers can add ergonomic or at least comfortable chairs; soothing music; and necessary supplies, such as nursing pads and individual-sized ointment containers, in case an employee runs out.
[SHRM members-only sample policy: Lactation/Breastfeeding Breaks Policy]
Breastfeeding “is a relatively short period in a woman’s life,” said Kris Pender, director of human resources at Hanscom Federal Credit Union, which has 22 branches in the United States. Women make up 70% of the organization’s 250 employees.
Hanscom’s operations centers maintain a dedicated pumping room, with a lockable door and a refrigerator. “Mothers can pump without fear of being seen or interrupted and also have a place to store their milk safely,” Pender said. The organization is also doing everything it can to ensure nursing parents working in the branches have access to a private location whenever they need it.
“Our managers and supervisors understand that employees may need some temporary adjustments” to their schedules while breastfeeding, and managers are encouraged to find solutions “that will meet our workforce needs while respecting the needs of the employee,” Pender said.
“Management support is critical to a breastfeeding mother’s success as she returns to her full- or part-time role,” said Brandi Baldwin, human resources consultant and founder of the New York-based Calling All Allies project. York, which helps organizations create and maintain fair and inclusive workplaces. In general, flexibility should be the goal, she advised. For example, breastfeeding parents may need approval to leave a meeting early if they need to express milk, snack during meetings or at their desk, or take refreshment breaks or clean the equipment after expressing their milk.
Employees who work outside of an office often face unique challenges when breastfeeding, which is why Schindler Elevator Corp., based in Switzerland with locations in the United States and Canada, has just add a free breastmilk shipping service to help breastfeeding parents who travel.
“This service is available until the child’s second birthday and comes with additional benefits, including 24/7 telehealth care and on-demand appointments with lactation consultants during the travel,” said Julia Hodum, the company’s director of inclusion and diversity.
Ask what they need
Employers should not assume that all nursing employees have the same needs and priorities. To find out what new parents need, ask them.
“I recommend partnering with internal employee resource groups to understand the barriers that employees [who are nursing] are currently facing, as well as the benefits that are important to them and their families,” Hodum said.
Employers can also solicit feedback from employees who have been nurses in the past. “Ask if there is a way to improve the experience and be open to hearing what these employees have to say,” Pender suggested.
Lactation consultants can provide personalized plans and advice to nurses. The employer’s health plan can be a good resource for lactation support, equipment, and referrals to lactation consultants.
Baldwin urged employers to personalize breastfeeding benefits and support for new parents as much as possible. For example, some parents rely exclusively on breast milk and need additional equipment or other supplies. In other cases, new parents may need access to certain types of formula, bottles, or other supplies.
“Rather than creating a one-off benefit for mothers with breastfeeding-aged children, employers should consider allocating funds that can be used for mothers to privately select items that will support them through this stage of their life. motherhood,” Baldwin said.
Keep an eye on employee support
“The biggest risk is that new managers don’t understand their responsibility to support employees in this way,” Staton said.
Even if managers and supervisors receive proper training on supporting nursing employees in the workplace, they can still downgrade. “It is important to continue to look for ways to improve and push back complacency,” he noted.
Joanne Sammer is a business and finance writer based in New Jersey.