When a mother is returning to work and chooses to continue breastfeeding her infant, there are several areas of responsibility for employers, supervisors, mothers, and co-workers. These are key to providing an accommodating and supportive environment for a working mother to carry out her breastfeeding goals.
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Providing the resources for breastfeeding support has numerous benefits to employers, including higher productivity, fewer sick days and time off, and improved employee morale. In order to be in compliance with federal law (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010), employers can support breastfeeding mothers returning to work by:
- Providing “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”
- Providing “a private place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk."
Supervisors can support employees through comprehensive support programs, as well as communicating their support to the employee before her maternity leave starts, and after she returns to work:
- Support sufficient leave time. It takes 6 to 8 weeks for baby and mother to establish a good milk supply. Read more about Leave of Absence
- Support having a flexible work schedule by allowing mothers to return to work gradually or on a flexible schedule. Support fathers’ participation in the birth and lactation process by supporting leaves and flexible schedules for both parents.
- Allow for time during the work day for breastfeeding/pumping.
- Work with the nursing mother to identify an appropriate place to pump breast milk. This can be a private office that is nearby, or a room specifically designated for this purpose.
- Be sensitive to the fact that:
- Not all women know whether they will breastfeed before their baby arrives.
- Women choose to breastfeed for a variety of reasons.
- Not all women will feel comfortable discussing their breastfeeding choices.
- It is important to be sensitive to the privacy of the new mother’s choices.
- Keeping privacy in mind, educate other employees about special arrangements for breastfeeding co-workers, to avoid possible misunderstandings.
- Both supervisors and co-workers can help to create a supportive work climate.
- Lactation Rooms at U-M
Breastfeeding is an important step in helping to give a baby the best start to life. Even when returning to work, it is possible to balance work obligations while still maintaining breastfeeding goals.
- Attend monthly support group meetings
- Consider attending prenatal or lactation support classes
- Plan for sufficient leave time, particularly after the baby arrives to allow you more time to initiate breastfeeding. Read more about Leave of Absence
- Speak with your supervisor about expectations for when you return to work. Consider flexible scheduling options.
- Identify a lactation space, such as a designated lactation room on campus or private office, where you will be able to pump breast milk during the workday.
- Investigate how to purchase a breast pump or acquire a pump kit if you plan to use one of the hospital-grade pumps at the U-M hospital. These hospital-grade pumps require an Ameda Egnell Double Pump Kit to attach to the electric pump, or you may use Ameda pump parts that come with your Ameda portable pump.
- Seek out other breastfeeding mothers, perhaps co-workers or a local support group, to share experiences and tips that may be helpful as you work to maintain your breastfeeding goals.
- Contact a lactation consultant for specific questions about breastfeeding
Co-worker support is an important part of a smooth transition for a breastfeeding mother, and it contributes to a supportive work environment. Breastfeeding provides important health benefits to mother and baby, which can in turn benefit the workplace -- less time taken off for sick days, higher productivity, reduced employee turnover, and more.
As a co-worker of a breastfeeding mother, there are many ways that you can be supportive:
- Be sensitive of the mother’s privacy regarding her breastfeeding choices.
- Offer flexibility in scheduling meetings, breaks, and coverage of job responsibilities.
- Show interest in the baby, and if appropriate, let the mother know that you applaud her decision to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
- Ask the mother if there is anything you can do to help her in this time of transition.