Celebrating Dads: 3 Ways Employers Can Support Fathers to Achieve Breastfeeding Goals
Successful breastfeeding journeys require a solid infrastructure of support. Both at home and in the workplace, nursing mothers need encouragement, time, space and an abundance of practical help. We celebrate fathers, spouses and partners, and their commitment to provide critical nutrition to their babies – and explore ways employers can support the entire family.
Fathers Play a Key Role in Breastfeeding Success
Research shows that fathers play a central role in mothers’ prospects of initiating and sustaining a breastfeeding routine.¹ Spouses can show support in a number of ways, including cleaning, meal prep and taking on the many aspects of baby care to free up time for a mother to adapt to the time-consuming routine of breastfeeding. Family members, especially spouses, not only influence a woman's initial choice to breastfeed but also their ability to continue providing breast milk in the short and long term.
Working Parents: Rise in Dual Income Households
More so than any other time in history, families with children have two working parents in the household. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77.5% of women aged 25-54 are now working or seeking employment – marking the highest number on record. As for working mothers specifically, 71.6% of women with children are currently in the U.S. labor force, a significant increase from 2020. This means the majority of mothers today have to juggle the demands of both their job and parenthood, and this extra labor requires more help from their family than ever before.
More Women are Pumping When Returning to Work
The American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age and then continued breastfeeding for up to 2 years of age and beyond. These new guidelines are prompting more moms to extend their breastfeeding goals. More than 97% of breastfeeding moms say they’ll continue to feed breast milk when they return to work.² For most of them, this means they will have to pump during their workday.
But women can’t reach these goals alone. Support must come from all fronts in order to truly empower families to make their own choices about infant care and nutrition. Employers are recognizing these workforce shifts and coming up with new ways to champion working parents with more family-friendly policies. From changing company culture to expanding practical offerings like paid leave, here some ways employers can help not only breastfeeding employees, but the spouses who support them as well:
1. Promoting a Breastfeeding Friendly Culture Benefits Everyone
When we change workplace culture, there’s a ripple effect that extends from employees to their families, and on to the community at large. Women who need to pump milk at work face an uphill battle, even with recently expanded protections from the new federal PUMP Act. While employers are required to comply with providing reasonable break times and a private lactation space, it’s equally important to actively cultivate a breastfeeding friendly environment that normalizes pumping at work. This helps ensure that colleagues and supervisors of breastfeeding employees are appropriately informed of the organization’s supportive stance. It also helps empower men in the organization to support and advocate for their breastfeeding colleagues when needed.
A good place to start is by creating and promoting a lactation accommodation policy (check out our recently updated template that’s PUMP Act compliant). A written policy will clarify expectations across your organization, demonstrate legal compliance and promote your commitment to new parents. All parents, whether the breastfeeding employee or the supporting spouse, need clear signals of encouragement to pursue health goals for their children. Providing lactation support can and should be a point of pride for a company – as it furthers gender equity goals by giving parents real choices about balancing work and family.
2. Strengthening & Encouraging Paid Leave Policies
Employers who offer paid parental leave benefits to new fathers can help balance caregiving duties and in turn ensure that women have access to the same employment security and advancement. Currently, only about a quarter of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report. And even for the 90% of workers who have access to unpaid leave, women are still taking longer leaves on average. After the birth of a child, women average 54 days of leave versus 18 days for men. When men are offered paid leave, a family can strategically plan their leave times to navigate those first few chaotic months after welcoming a new baby.
Currently, the United States is the only developed country that does not have a federal law requiring paid time off for parents after the birth of a child. Some states do mandate paid family leave, with Minnesota being the most recent to enact a new family and medical paid leave policy for workers when they’re seriously ill, or to care for newborns or loved ones. Effective in 2026, the new Minnesota law will allow up to 12 weeks leave annually for either scenario, with partial pay determined by the state’s sliding scale and an individual’s income. In stark contrast, less than one in four (23%) workers nationally have access to paid family leave, according to a 2021 benefits survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
3. Providing Lactation Support that Benefits Spouses Too
Employers can offer more robust lactation benefits that include educational components and access to lactation experts. A working parent can take advantage of these services in support of a breastfeeding spouse – thereby expanding the reach and engagement of your benefits investment. Through our Kin program, we offer a range of services that can be shared by a family. Access to 24/7 live support is an especially helpful tool for first-time parents who are often overwhelmed with feeding questions. When those concerns arise in the middle of the night, it’s a big stress reliever to know you have in-the-moment access to a custom network of prenatal, pediatric and lactation experts. This telehealth tool, which has a high engagement rate, is easy to launch and seamlessly integrates with any existing health programs.
Through Medela, we also offer clinically reviewed educational resources that support new parents every step of the way. With our Medela Family app, parents receive free stage-based education, tools ands services that empower breastfeeding for as long as desired, plus access to exclusive discounts on breastfeeding products. An insurance concierge component helps with acquiring an insurance-covered breast pump. Another educational tool is Medela’s Breastfeeding University, which offers a collection of online courses and videos designed to help prepare expectant and existing mothers, fathers, and even grandparents, for the breastfeeding journey.
Supporting new moms means that companies need to actively support new dads as well. When caregiving duties are more equitably shared, employers reap the benefits of improved retention rates and higher employee satisfaction. If you’re ready to explore more family-friendly policies, we invite you to check out our Resource Center or contact one of our Kin experts.
¹ Ogbo F. et al, Breastfeeding in the Community: How Can Partners/Fathers Help, International Journal of Environ Res Public Health, 2020.
² Moms’ Thoughts on Breastfeeding Survey of 2,500 respondents, Medela, October 2022.