Many barriers exist between parents and successful breast- and chestfeeding in the workplace. Here’s how employers can support breastfeeding and chestfeeding employees.
Here's what you need to know:
- It’s vital that employers understand the importance of breastfeeding and chestfeeding
- Educate managers on necessary accommodations and clearly communicate that breast- and chestfeeding are allowed in the workplace
- Provide adequate physical lactation space and increase flexibility and work from home options
- Build breaks into the workday for nursing parents
- The more supportive your workplace, the more competitive you’ll be in the competition for talent
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain, breastfeeding is an investment in health, not just a lifestyle decision. Breastfed infants have reduced risks of everything from asthma and obesity to type 1 diabetes and ear infections.
Plus, breastfeeding can be a more economical option than formula. The cost of formula can easily range between $1,000 and $2,000 a year or more depending on the brand.
Like breastfeeding, chestfeeding, too, has its benefits. Chestfeeding is the act of feeding your baby milk from your chest regardless of whether or not you’re a lactating female. As Healthline explains, chestfeeding is often used as a way for transgender and nonbinary parents to feed and nurture their babies after birth.
But trans and nonbinary people aren’t the only ones who chestfeed. Sometimes even women who have given birth struggle to breastfeed and opt for chestfeeding instead.
Both chestfeeding and breastfeeding help to strengthen the physical and emotional bond between babies and their parents. Naturally, many working parents prefer to continue chest- and breastfeeding when they return to work.
But as many working parents have found, many barriers exist between them and successful breast- and chestfeeding in the workplace. Here’s how savvy employers can support breastfeeding and chestfeeding parents at work.
Understand the importance of breastfeeding and chestfeeding
The benefits of breastfeeding go beyond infants themselves. Breastfeeding, according to the CDC, can lower a mother’s risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. Plus, as mentioned above, the bonding that breastfeeding and chestfeeding allows for can’t be overstated.
Across the United States, though, a sharp drop in the duration of breastfeeding takes place when parents return to work. This is thanks to the hassle that it often poses for parents returning to work.
Not only are you doing your employees and their families a disservice by not supporting their endeavors, you’re putting your company at legal risk, too.
As the Harvard Business Review explains, Kentucky Fried Chicken awarded an employee a whopping $1.5 million in 2019. This is, in part, because the company failed to provide her with adequate break time for pumping breast milk.
That same year, Tucson provided a $3.8 million settlement to a paramedic in part because the fire department failed to provide her a private place to pump breast milk.
Not making adequate accommodations for breastfeeding parents can quickly land your company in hot legal water. It’s vital to become familiar with state breastfeeding laws for employers.
But it’s not just about avoiding lawsuits. If you’re interested in retaining the talent you have in today’s competitive market, you need to ensure that parents aren’t driven away because they’re not supported at work.
As the Office on Women’s Health notes, there’s a strong business case for supporting breastfeeding and chestfeeding. Doing so boosts the retention of experienced employees while reducing the number of sick days taken by parents for their child’s illnesses.
Supporting breast- and chestfeeding also leads to lower healthcare and insurance costs.
Educate leadership and managers on accommodations
The next step after you’ve educated yourself on the importance of breastfeeding and chestfeeding is passing that information on to your company’s leadership. It’s important that all leaders and managers understand why making reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding parents is important.
This way your company’s leadership will know that the increased flexibility that some parents might need (more on this in a bit) is a necessary and important accommodation.
Clearly communicate that breast- and chestfeeding are allowed in the workplace
Beyond educating leadership, it’s also a good idea to make a clear policy about breastfeeding in the workplace. Having a written policy in your employee handbook helps to erase any confusion about how breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and pumping are handled in the workplace.
Having a written policy in your employee handbook helps to erase any confusion about how breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and pumping are handled in the workplace.
A clear, written policy is also an opportunity to show that your business takes the needs of parents seriously. Not sure where to start? The Arizona Department of Health Services has a couple of sample policies to get you going.
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Provide adequate physical lactation space
Naturally, one of the main barriers to breastfeeding, chestfeeding, or pumping in the workplace is adequate physical space. Designing a special lactation space might be the top tier approach, but there are much more accessible ways to ensure parents have what they need.
Even just letting employees that typically work in cubicles or an open office space take meetings from an existing office or conference room can help immensely. It’s important to note that because of the germ content of bathrooms, they’re not ideal locations for breastfeeding or pumping.
On top of physical space, offer supportive amenities as well. Any space should have comfortable seating, a place to set pumping equipment, and a sanitary option for clean up.
Of course, there needs to be electricity available for plugging in pumps as well. You can always go above and beyond by providing pumps at work so that parents don’t have to lug theirs around.
Finally, ensure that everyone knows that breast milk can be kept in the company fridge. It’s always an option to add another small fridge or a cooler if the company fridge is already full or not frequently cleaned.
Oh, and remember: lactation spaces should be gender-neutral.
Increase flexibility and work from home options
When someone has to pump, they have to pump. Bodies don’t follow corporate schedules, they follow baby schedules.
This means that strict working hours and break times will be difficult for breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and pumping parents to follow. Flexible start and stop times go a long way as do flexible work from home options and PTO policies.
There are additional accommodations that might need to be made as well depending on the type of work your company does. Tight-fitting uniforms might have to be adjusted and working around toxins will have to be avoided.
Traditional work travel schedules will likely need modifications, too. The name of the game is collaboration. Work with your employees to get them what they need to thrive.
Build breaks into the workday for nursing parents
Finally, make sure that breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and pumping parents have the breaks they need. On average, nursing parents need between 2 and 3 breaks in an 8-hour workday.
But, in the end, this all depends on the baby’s schedule and the needs of the nursing person’s body. It can take around 20 minutes for someone to pump. But that doesn’t include the time it takes to get to the lactation space, get ready to pump, or clean up afterwards.
Again, the key is flexibility and accommodation. The more conveniently located you can make the lactation and storage spaces, the better. Convenience makes it easier for parents to pump and take less time doing so in the process.
Every body is different. This means that the time it takes for 1 nursing parent to pump says nothing about the time it takes another nursing parent to pump.
For those entirely unfamiliar with breastfeeding, chestfeeding, nursing, and pumping, this might sound like a lot to take in. But the investment is worth it and will pay off in the form of happy, satisfied employees. They’ll be committed to the company that’s equally committed to them.
Listening sessions and anonymous employee feedback surveys can be a good place to begin if you don’t quite know what your nursing parents would like to see at work. Think of it as a learning process and don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know.
The more supportive your workplace, the more competitive you’ll be in the competition for talent. This is especially true for younger generations who expect more out of work-life balance than previous generations.