Fewer than one in five moms know their breastfeeding rights in the workplace, according to a survey conducted by the Byram Healthcare Center. Jennifer Jordan, Director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow Breastpumps—a medical equipment company division that supplies pumping essentials and healthcare through insurance—plans on changing that. Born out of the Affordable Care Act, along with other women’s health preventative services like birth control and mammograms, Aeroflow does more than just provide mothers with physical support. They provide emotional support, too, by educating mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding, lactation room laws, and the importance of normalizing nursing.
According to the Byram survey, 63 percent of mothers said pumps enabled their return to the workforce and 36 percent reported that it gave them a chance to continue advancing in their career. But, according to an Aeroflow survey that polled 774 expecting mothers between the ages of 18-40, 62 percent said there’s a stigma attached to breastfeeding at work, and 47 percent said they’ve considered switching their career or job because of their need to pump at work.
As a working and previously pumping mom herself, Jennifer helps new mothers ease back into the workforce after maternity leave. Breast pump accessibility and affordability are clearly crucial to working moms who are breastfeeding, which is why the forward-thinking service organizes an annual contest where women can nominate their company to win a pumping room makeover by sharing their breastfeeding stories. Last year, Dr. Mamie Futrell, a Sexual Assault Prevention Response Program (SAPPR) manager in Joint Base Charleston, won a lactation room equipped with pumping supplies for her air base’s military women.
Here, we spoke with Jennifer about other reasons why breastfeeding in the workplace is essential to working moms.
Your Right to a Lactation Room
“We’ve heard from moms who were pumping in broom closets, sitting on buckets, in conditions that could contaminate their milk,” Jennifer explains. This past July, the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act was signed into law, which requires all federal buildings to have designated breastfeeding rooms. Beyond that, these lactation rooms need to have outlets, chairs, a working surface, and privacy.
Since 2010, women are legally entitled to pump milk in a private room through the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. This includes time to pump and a room with shades, no windows, and a lock. Studies show that most nursing mothers take just two to three breaks per 8-hour workday, for a total time of less than one hour per workday to pump.
Ideally, lactation room essentials should include a fridge to store milk, a water source to wash and clean pumping parts, a comfortable chair (because, duh), a power source (some pumps need an outlet, others are battery operated), and a table to rest your pump.
“Then there are convenience items we provide like breast milk storage bags, bra pads, lanolin, and micro-steam bags, to make things easier when you’re pumping at the office and trying to get back to work,” she says.
Normalizing Breastfeeding at Work
“I really encourage employees to hit breastfeeding head-on through a policy. When you experience such a life-changing event as pregnancy, the first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with your company’s benefits,” Jennifer says. Since there’s already a law requiring certain breastfeeding accommodations, companies should have this in their handbook.
“A mom may not feel comfortable going to someone in HR that they don’t know very well to speak about something that can be incredibly private. If that policy is already in the company handbook, it gives the new mom a level of comfort and allows her to know exactly where her employers stand,” she adds.
Since that’s not always the case (you may be the first breastfeeding mom in the company!), Jennifer encourages moms to be their own advocates. “Understand your rights and speak what you know is this truth. We are protected by laws that do allow us a private space other than a restroom to pump.”
Don’t assume your employer is not accommodating, because it may be a new circumstance for your employer and an opportunity for you to educate them. If you’re their first breastfeeding mother, this is your chance to make a change and draft the breastfeeding policy for other mothers in the future.
Benefits of Breastfeeding:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life and continued breastfeeding with the introduction of solid foods through at least the first year. Health benefits for babies include reduced risk of ear infections, stomach issues, respiratory infection, diarrhea, and sudden infant death syndrome (although the connection is unclear). Long term benefits for children who are breastfed have a lower risk of obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, and asthma. Women have a reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast and ovarian cancer.
“You’re arming your child for life and to reap health rewards beyond bonding,” explains Jennifer.
Supporting Nursing Mothers Benefits Employers
“The return on investment for accommodating women—which is more of a right than an accommodation—for the employer, is lower medical costs in health insurance claims. Since breastfed babies are healthier, breastfeeding mothers will miss less work and that’s going to reduce turnover,” Jennifer opines.
A company that allows moms the space and time to pump will accumulate loyalty from their employees. Early in her career, Jennifer worked at a small, family-owned business. They didn’t have a pumping room but her employers were incredibly supportive and would give her their office when it was time to pump.
“Breastfeeding mothers are valuable. More moms are going back to work now than at any time in history. An employer who is not thinking about how to accommodate and retain new moms is missing phenomenal talent.”