Updated: Nov 22, 2021
In celebration and support of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, we want to help new moms understand their rights when they return to work.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continuing for a year or longer. We totally get this is not an option for many parents for a variety of reasons but lack of support or education on your rights should not be one of them! According to data from the CDC from babies born in 2017, 84.1% of mothers initiated breastfeeding, 58.3% were still breastfed past six months, and only 25.4% were breastfed past six months.
The good news is that these numbers are steadily improving, with approximately a 5% increase in all categories over the past six years. One cause for the improvement is that hospitals are becoming more baby friendly. Yay!
Remember the days when the baby was quickly whisked away to get a bath, have their measurements and weight taken, and then swaddled and put in a nursery? Not anymore! Now, the baby is placed directly on the mother’s chest to practice skin-to-skin contact because this closeness helps the baby adjust to their new world. This initial contact also aids in breastfeeding and attachment, which is crucial for the health and brain development of the baby. (Don’t forget to pack a Bonsie outfit in your hospital bag to simplify skin-to-skin contact!)
Parents are also given time to bond with their baby before most hospitals will accept visitors. Now you can enjoy your new miracle without throngs of family members cooing and passing your newborn baby around. In addition to these new initiatives, nurses are well trained to help moms breastfeed, and babies are only taken to the nursery upon request.
Numbers may be improving, but we still have a long way to go to increase the length of time that babies are breastfed. So, how can we better support mothers after they leave the hospital?
One of the first steps is to provide more accessible education on the rights that breastfeeding mothers have when they return to work, as well as encourage greater support from employers.
Melissa Hudelson, the Executive Director of the Kansas Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, explained that a major reason so many mothers stop breastfeeding is because they return to work full time and do not feel supported to breast pump.
According to the Federal law, employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) must provide breastfeeding mothers with the time and space to express milk.
“Moms need to know what their rights are and that any sort of continuation of breastfeeding is better for your baby, healthier for you, and less expensive,” Hudelson said.
Most states have their own more specific laws about expressing milk at work, so check here to find more information about your area.
There are also many support groups that are specifically designed to help moms reach their breastfeeding goals. The breastfeeding coalition from each state will even communicate with your employer for you to ensure you are given the proper time and environment to pump.
Hudelson, who continuously works on projects to better support and educate parents, said the following: “Moms should be able to continue breastfeeding after returning to work if they choose to. I encourage them to understand their rights to a private space to pump and break time before they go back so they can have a plan in place. It’s alright if they can’t keep up with breastfeeding 100% of the time, any breastfeeding is beneficial for both mom and baby. Moms should do what works best for their family.”
Not only is the freedom to pump at work important for moms, but it is also beneficial for businesses. According to AAP, the economic benefit for companies to be more mother-baby friendly should be an incentive for all employers: for every $1 spent to better support lactating mothers, a company can expect $2 - $3 in return investment. “A mother/baby-friendly worksite provides benefits to employers, including a reduction in company health care costs, lower employee absenteeism, reduction in employee turnover, and increased employee morale and productivity.”
Separation after maternity leave is difficult for both moms and their baby, so empower yourself by knowing your rights and surrounding yourself with people who support your goals. If you take the first step in advocating for a more mother/baby-friendly work environment, think about all the other families who will benefit from your bravery.
If you need help finding support on your breastfeeding or parenting journey, please reach out to us at Bonsie and we can help connect you to the right people.
The 10 steps to Successful Breastfeeding. Baby-Friendly USA. (2021, August 11). https://www.babyfriendlyusa.org/for-facilities/practice-guidelines/10-steps-and-international-code/.
About WIC: How WIC helps. USDA. (n.d.). https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/about-wic-how-wic-helps.
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Breastfeeding Among U.S. Children Born 2011–2018, CDC National Immunization Survey. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, August 2). https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/nis_data/results.html.
Breastfeeding Frequently asked questions (faqs). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, August 10). https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/faq/index.htm#:~:text=WHO%20also%20recommends%20exclusive%20breastfeeding,for%20at%20least%201%20year.
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Breastfeeding, S. O. (2012, March 1). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full#content-block.
Coalitions directory. U.S. Breastfeeding Committee. (n.d.). http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/coalitions-directory.
Nursing Babies, Nurturing Families . La Leche League USA. (2021, April 19). https://lllusa.org/about-us/.
What if your state already has a law? U.S. Breastfeeding Committee . (n.d.). http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/p/cm/ld/fid=232.