The Law and Economics Support Breastfeeding in the Workplace

by Amanda Bridson
Peoria City/County Health Department

Breastfeeding-friendly workplaces give businesses a competitive edge when hiring and retaining employees.

Women of child-bearing age are making up a higher percentage of the workforce, and the percentage of women choosing to breastfeed is on the rise. Employers who support employees in breastfeeding their infants gain a more satisfied employee who is more productive in the workforce. Breastfeeding-friendly workplaces promote an earlier return from maternity leave, increase retention of female employees, and lower healthcare costs.

The health benefits to infants and moms add to a healthy workforce, according to numerous prominent health organizations. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies receive breast milk for the first 12 months of life, and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first two years or beyond for the greatest health benefits. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to experience ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, severe lower respiratory tract infections, allergies, asthma, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome. Moms who breastfeed are less likely to experience breast and cervical cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. In addition, breastfeeding reduces work absenteeism for parents due to fewer illnesses and faster recovery in both infants and moms.

Illinois has a law in place that guides employers in assuring adequate protection for the breastfeeding employees' needs. The Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act was passed in 2001 to support breastfeeding moms in the workplace. It states that an employer shall provide reasonable unpaid break times each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child, and make reasonable efforts to provide a location, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express her milk in privacy. Few exemptions apply.

Adequate space for a lactation room is minimal, but space can be made to make breastfeeding easy and friendly for employees. A basic lactation room can be as small as a four-foot by five-foot room. The room should include an electrical outlet, a door that locks from the inside, a chair, and a place to set the pump. The area should be clean and preferably close to a water source. A lactation room can be an unused office, conference room, dressing room or even a clean storage room, but should be adequately heated or cooled. Women need to store their pumped breast milk in a small cooler with ice packs or a public refrigerator.

Making the lactation room warm and inviting can make moms feel respected in their workplace. Nursing mothers typically pump two or three times a day for about 15 minutes each time. Most employees can pump adequately during their regular break times. There are times when breastfeeding moms need to express milk more often; otherwise, they may experience a drop in their milk supply, become engorged or get a breast infection.

Supporting breastfeeding in the workplace, while providing a clean and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers, can give employers the economic advantage in maintaining a healthy and respectful workforce. iBi

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