Mothers with children younger than three are the fastest growing segment of today's labor force. Employed mothers are less likely to start breastfeeding and they tend to breastfeed for a shorter length of time than women who are not working. At least 58% of employed women return to work when their newborn is just 12 weeks old. This is a concern since the medical community encourages women to exclusively breastfeed their baby for 6 months. Workplace support has helped improve breastfeeding rates among working mothers.
Women who are still breastfeeding when they return to work have relatively few and simple needs:
- a convenient, private and comfortable location at the worksite to pump
- the time to pump when needed during the work day
- a dependable, efficient breast pump
Employers Benefit When They Support Breastfeeding
Workplace lactation programs for breastfeeding employees create positive results including lower absenteeism and improved productivity, company loyalty and employee morale.
Because a sick child is a frequent cause of absenteeism among employed mothers, worksite programs that improve children's health translate into a reduction in maternal absenteeism. Mothers with formula-fed children miss work because their children are sick three times more than mothers who breastfeed their children. Supporting breastfeeding mothers in the workplace also lowers health care costs.
Oregon Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employer Project (1997 - 2013)
Note: Because it was no longer needed, the Oregon Health Authority's WIC Program discontinued this project in October 2013. We initiated the project at a time when there was no requirement for workplace support for breastfeeding mothers. Today working mothers who breastfeed have the protection of both federal and state laws. Though the employer designation is no longer available, we continue to offer an employer packet with a sample policy and other guidance.
Project description and background:
The Oregon Health Authority implemented the Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employer Project in 1997. This project was one component of our efforts to create a community that supports breastfeeding. We encouraged all employers to voluntarily support nursing mothers on their return to work. We tried to decrease community barriers so mothers could breastfeed for at least one year as recommended by health experts.
At the time the project was created, the majority of Oregon women giving birth initiated breastfeeding in the hospital. Breastfeeding rates dropped significantly in the first two to four weeks after hospital discharge and continued to drop thereafter.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
- Recommends that arrangements be made to provide expressed breast milk if mother and child must be separated during the first year
- Encourages employers to provide appropriate facilities and adequate time in the workplace for breast-pumping
Goals of the Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employer Project
- Because most mothers already started out breastfeeding, our goal was to increase the number of working women who breastfed exclusively for six months.
- We also wanted to increase the number of Oregon employers that met the criteria of the Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employer Project.
Employer project strategies
- Set an example for other employers: Since 1997, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has had agency policies ensuring workplace support for mothers who are breastfeeding.
- Provide resources to help employers: We provided the free employer packet to help Oregon employers become Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employers.
- Provide recognition: We provided a certificate of recognition to all employers who submitted the application documenting their adherence to the Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employer criteria.
See the Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employers page for a list of employers who submitted applications and were designated as Breastfeeding Mother Friendly Employers from 1998 - 2013.
photo courtesy of USBC