New laws protect breastfeeding employees

Workplace lactation support is instrumental in helping moms continue breastfeeding

Breastfeeding in the workplace
Yasmina Aknin
YASMINA AKNIN Clark County Public Health

Returning to work after having a baby can be tough for any new parent, but it can be especially difficult for breastfeeding mothers. However, employers can play an important role in supporting breastfeeding. Creating a comfortable space and time for expressing milk at the workplace is not only smart for business and helpful for breastfeeding employees, it’s the law. Workplace lactation support is instrumental in helping moms continue the breastfeeding relationship and has a good return on investment for employers.

A quality lactation support program can reduce employee absenteeism, increase company loyalty and retain employees. Since 58% of new mothers are in the workforce in Clark County, it’s important for companies to understand the law and how they can accommodate the needs of breastfeeding employees.

Lactation support and rooms are not a “one-size-fits-all” business practice and can look different in each organization. It’s important for all businesses, big and small, to identify a private space and appropriate schedules to accommodate breastfeeding employees – regardless of their physical environment or type of business.

The East West Martial Arts Center, a martial arts center with locations in Hazel Dell and East Vancouver, offers martial arts classes throughout the day. Despite their hectic schedule, they always find ways to accommodate breastfeeding employees.

“We believe in breastfeeding,” says Owner Zennette Bertrand. “We get creative in how we schedule,” she added.

Educational Opportunities for Children and Families has made lactation support a priority for their employees and has worked to ensure all employees have a space to privately express breastmilk. This can be a challenge given they have 29 sites with different work environments, many with very limited space. However, they worked with each site to identify a lactation space and always work with individual employees to ensure their schedule accommodates pumping during the workday. The lactation room at their headquarters (where more space is available and more employees work) features a sink, a refrigerator, a cushioned chair, dim lights and a noise machine.

“As a children-focused organization, we know that breastfeeding is important for the health of both moms and babies,” said Health Services Manager Deanna Russell.

Rosauers, a new grocery store in Ridgefield, made sure to include an office space that can double as a lactation space when they were building the store. The Ridgefield Store Manager Eric Dean explained that all Rosauers have an office that is readily available to convert to a private lactation space and the room is intentionally included in the planning of all new construction.

The law

The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private space to express milk for one year after the child’s birth. Washington state also provides protection for mothers who are breastfeeding with new state law that expands on the existing federally mandated rights for break time and private spaces to pump breast milk. The new state law lengthens the amount of time that employers must provide a reasonable accommodation for a worker who is breastfeeding from one year to two years and extends the requirements to employers with 15 or more employees.

What can you do?

In Clark County, 95% of mothers start breastfeeding at birth. But by 10 weeks, fewer mothers continue to breastfeed and 26% report that they stop breastfeeding due to returning to school or work. Company values, physical space limitations and type of work can influence lactation support. Many moms, especially in physically demanding jobs such as waitressing, janitorial services and other food service industries, struggle to find time to take breast-pumping breaks during their shifts. Companies that support breastfeeding employees can make that easier.

How can employers support breastfeeding families? At a minimum:

Work with breastfeeding employees to identify a reasonable break schedule for expressing milk.

Provide a comfortable, private space for expressing milk. If your workplace doesn’t have a space, work with the employee to identify a convenient space and work schedule to accommodate their needs.

Employers that want to go above and beyond the law can consider the following:

  • Develop a lactation support policy and/or guidelines for employees. This makes your business practice clear and easy to communicate to staff.
  • Create a private room that is dedicated to expressing milk or breastfeeding. Equip the room with a comfortable chair, sink, refrigerator, art and relaxing features, like a light dimmer or aromatherapy.
  • Purchase a hospital-grade pump that can be shared by employees. Hospital grade pumps are safe to share and can help employees pump more efficiently. They can also help mothers better maintain their supply.
  • Consider an Infant at Work policy. These policies typically allow parents to take their babies to work for the first six months to support breastfeeding, bonding and the transition back to work.
  • Allow employees to pump on work time.
  • Get employee feedback so you can improve the support or space.

Public Health can provide worksites with free technical assistance to create a breastfeeding-friendly environment.

For more information about breastfeeding-friendly worksites or to highlight a business that offers exceptional lactation support, visit the Clark County Breastfeeding in the Workplace webpage.

Yasmina Aknin is a Healthy Communities Program Coordinator at Clark County Public Health. She also leads the Clark County Breastfeeding Coalition to promote and support breastfeeding so that working families have the support they need to continue breastfeeding. She can be reached at yasmina.aknin@clark.wa.gov or 564-397-7312.

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