As the nation celebrates Labor Day, the United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA) salutes breastfeeding mothers in the workplace as well as the employers who support them. Over fifty per cent of mothers of young children are now employed outside the home and represent the fastest growing segment of the workforce. More mothers in the workplace coupled with a greater appreciation of the role breastfeeding plays in good health necessitate breastfeeding-friendly workplaces. As evidence mounts that breastfeeding is important to the health of both mothers and children, leading health experts are recommending exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for at least the first year. Exclusive breastfeeding protects women from breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, while offering children protection against ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, obesity, diabetes, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Increasing the breastfeeding initiation and duration rates is a major public health goal.
Last year, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers to provide break time and an appropriate space that is not a toilet to express breast milk during the workday for a period of one year after the birth of a child. This law applies to all businesses with fifty or more employees, exempting smaller businesses if enacting the measures would provide a significant hardship.
Far from being a hardship, many businesses on the forefront of mother-friendly practices have found that supporting breastfeeding mothers yields a strong return on investment. According to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Business Case for Breastfeeding, breastfeeding-friendly businesses enjoy such benefits as retention of experienced employees, reduced absenteeism by both mothers and fathers for child-related illnesses, and lower health care and insurance costs. Becoming a breastfeeding-friendly workplace is an inexpensive and relatively easy way to invest in employees, with a significant payoff in terms of worker satisfaction and health care savings.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are health care professionals with the experience necessary to guide and support both breastfeeding mothers as they return to work and employers as they develop policies and practices to comply with the new labor law and benefit their employees. IBCLCs can help mothers initiate breastfeeding and devise a plan for their return to work, helping them achieve their breastfeeding goals. For more information or to locate an IBCLC, visit www.uslca.org . Happy Labor Day!