Lactation at Work

Nursing helps promote a better mother/baby bond

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Employers must “provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breastmilk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/nursing-mothers).

The law also stipulates employers must “provide a 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.”

On Oct. 22, the House passed the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP Nursing Mothers Act, H.R.3110) and currently the bill is on the legislative calendar in the Senate.

Current federal law exempts some industries from having to provide a place to lactate. Those include farm workers, transportation workers and teachers. As a result, about nine million women are currently not covered by existing federal lactation laws because they work in industries or companies that do not have to offer a lactation space.

The PUMP Act would require employers to accommodate lactation at work for two years instead of the current one year from the birth of the child.

Existing New York State law is more generous. NYS Labor Law Section 206-C Breastfeeding in the Workplace Accommodation Law (2007) allows moms to pump for three years. Moms may use a paid break, mealtimes or reasonable unpaid breaktimes to express breastmilk. State law also applies to all public and private employers irrespective of size and industry. New York employers must provide a dedicated lactation room, a temporarily vacant room, or at least a fully enclosed cubicle with walls 7 feet high, and not a bathroom. The pumping area must provide a chair and a flat surface, like a table.

Most mothers will need to spend 10 to 15 minutes pumping about two to three times in an eight-hour workday. They will also need time to clean their pumping equipment and clean up. The timing of pumping is not always consistent.

“Many moms might not return to work if they’re really committed to breastfeeding and the employer doesn’t provide a space for them,” said Sue Derby, registered nurse international board-certified lactation consultant retired from working in a motherhood program for the Cayuga County Health Department. Derby still offers lactation consulting in the Cato area.

Moms who feel welcomed and comfortable lactating are less likely to look for other employment or quit working. Considering the cost of recruiting, hiring and training a new employee, estimated at an average of $4,000, investing in a few items to improve the lactation space makes sense.

“The big thing is babies are healthier, so they don’t get sick and moms won’t have to take time off work,” she said. “It’s been proven that babies have fewer ear infections, respiratory problems and stomach problems if they nurse. They’ll be healthier, even in winter when babies are more prone to ear infections. Many [who nurse exclusively for the] first six months are not ill at all in the winter.”

Nursing also helps promote a better mother-baby bond, offers reduced risk of certain cancers for Mom and helps her return to her pre-pregnancy weight and shape faster. It saves families money on formula and doctor’s visits. Nursing has also been linked with reduced risks for obesity and diabetes later in the baby’s life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization agree that mothers should nurse babies exclusively for six months, meaning no other source of hydration or nutrition unless medically directed, and then gradually introduce appropriate foods while still nursing part-time.

Expressing milk too infrequently can lead to problems like clogged ducts and infection. Derby encourages employers to develop a lactation-friendly company culture to help moms feel welcomed to express milk.

While the law may require a place to pump, making it pleasant is up to the employer. Simply slapping a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the conference room door may technically comply with the law, but it is certainly not comfortable, as it is likely to be difficult to relax for lactation in a space associated with work.

It is also not cozy for moms. Derby said that to make it better, employers should include “a comfortable chair with a little table beside it to put her equipment on it. It should be clean with a refrigerator so she can store the milk. A lot of mothers who pump bring a cool pack.”

A dedicated room would be ideal. It doesn’t need to be large.

“It could be a little storage area as long as there’s a lock on the door,” Derby said.

It can also be tricky if a workplace has a few breastfeeding moms who need to use the space.

Jessica Leaf, RN and director of Women’s Services at Oswego Health, encourages employers to lead by example in creating greater acceptance of workplace lactation.

“It’s so important to them to stay connected with their babies and one way to do that is providing breastmilk, whether at work or pumping,” Leaf said. “You know you have to leave for work, but the care provider can offer your milk. It’s a way to stay connected and know you’re caring for your baby.” Promoting lactation is important at Oswego Health, where the organization has recently remodeled its employee lactation room to be a more attractive, relaxing place with soft lighting and a comfortable place to pump.

Leaf encourages employers to follow suit by remodeling a room for pumping to include relaxing seating, colors and lighting.

“Provide music or a speaker they can hook up their phone to, along with a sign for the door,” Leaf said. “A table and electrical outlet are essential, as employees would probably prefer to use an electric pump. Mini fridge is also nice, as it’s not ideal to keep milk in the breakroom.”

Leaf likes the idea of the PUMP Act, as continuing to nurse is difficult for employees struggling to find an appropriate place, and some acceptance, in the workplace.