Kin Report: The Call to Support Breastfeeding in the Workplace Intensifies
Medela is invested in changing the culture around working, breastfeeding moms and their families. Through our partnership with Mamava to create the Kin lactation program for employers and our efforts advocating for legislation that benefits moms and babies, we’re on a quest to grow our understanding of what it takes for breastfeeding parents to succeed. In our latest wave of research, we found that while the call for breastfeeding support has intensified, some of the biggest barriers for new parents come long before they even return to work. Those findings can be found in our newest white paper We also surveyed moms about their personal challenges and learned why they’re changing behaviors around breastfeeding, as detailed in our most recent infographic.
We set out to explore more about the reality for working moms and asked: As parents face a barrage of choices once their baby is born, how can employers help and not unwittingly hinder?
“In our years of talking with new moms, we’ve learned they need a clear signal of support from all fronts. Breastfeeding requires a great deal of motivation, time and energy, especially for employees returning to work after baby,” said Dana Kirwin, director of employer & government relations at Medela. “For employers, creating that infrastructure of support is one of the lowest cost – and most meaningful – benefits they can offer new parents. For a pumping employee, things like a private lactation space and easy access to high-quality pumps have an immediate positive impact on their daily routine. The prospect of juggling pumping and work duties becomes much more realistic and manageable.”
Some takeaways from our breastfeeding at work research:
Breastfeeding Habits Changed as a Result of Recent Events
During the COVID-19 pandemic, families grew increasingly concerned about health risks and became more tuned in to the immunological benefits of breast milk. In 2022, interest in breastfeeding grew again in the wake of the infant formula crisis. Parents were concerned about formula contamination possibilities and the very real prospect of continued or future shortages. Adding to the evolving landscape was a policy update from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending breastfeeding for up to 2 years and beyond, marking a one-year increase in their guidelines. As a result, 31% of working moms plan to breastfeed longer due to the new guidelines and 35% said the formula shortage influenced them to eliminate or limit formula use.¹
Breastfeeding in the Workplace: How the Illusion of Choice is a Barrier
We learned that without strong signals and communication from the onset, a pregnant employee is left wondering and worrying about their options upon returning to work. Consequently, the ‘choice’ to stop or continue breastfeeding may be made for them if they see no feasible path forward to express milk at work. Other concerns include falling behind on their workload or unwelcome judgment from colleagues. Employers, who are well-intentioned and may already offer lactation benefits, are sometimes hesitant to start a conversation about individualized support for fear of invading an employee’s privacy. But, as we learned firsthand from moms – 38% of whom didn’t know what, if any, breastfeeding support was available at work² – it’s not a benefit if nobody knows about it. Another indicator of a disconnect: Only 65% of employees say their benefits are easy to understand. Whereas, 87% of employers think their benefits are clearly communicated.³
Breastfeeding Support: Today’s Employees Place a High Value on Family-Friendly Benefits
The pandemic shifted work-life priorities for employees, with 53% indicating they’re more likely now to prioritize health and well-being over work.⁴ The evidence is abundant that employees place a high value on parenthood and are seeking employers who show support in a concrete way. Among human resource professionals, 70% rank family care as very or extremely important.⁵ Employers who respond to these priorities are rewarded with improved employee engagement, satisfaction and retention. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 83% of both male and female employees felt more positive about a company after lactation benefits were offered.⁶ And for organizations, breastfeeding is not just good for culture but also for the bottom line: it contributes to lower medical expenses, improved productivity among new parents, and reduced turnover.
In the coming year, we have our eye on a few key areas that will shape how employers approach policy making for nursing employees:
There is No Gender Equity without Support of Nursing Mothers
With 9 million additional moms now protected through the PUMP Act for Nursing Mothers, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, gender equity will remain a vital part of the conversation. Workers like teachers, nurses, police officers or anyone else whose job entails more mobility will need creative solutions like hands-free pumps and more flexible break times to meet their needs. Corporate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives can only be fulfilled if women don’t have to choose between feeding their babies or earning a paycheck. To retain and attract working moms, employers will respond with new ways of supporting pregnant and postpartum employees.
Breastfeeding Rights at Work: Employers Will Continue to Go Beyond What’s Required
We’re excited to work with a growing roster of employers who enthusiastically surpass what’s required by law to help ease transitions for young families. We’re already seeing historically male-dominated industries, such as financial services, energy, and transportation, retain more female talent by offering benefits that help new families. We’re also seeing employers recognize that nursing accommodations need to extend beyond just the main offices to reach a broader segment of employees at branch locations, warehouses and settings as far flung as an oil rig in the middle of the ocean.
Pumping at Work Laws: More Support for Families is on the Horizon
We’re working in bipartisan fashion to support additional legislation that helps families. The anticipated Access to Donor Milk Act (ADMA) would expand awareness of donor breast milk and increase federal support for nonprofit milk banks and access to donor milk for medically-vulnerable infants. We support the BABES Enhancement Act, which would improve the experiences of families traveling with breast milk or infant formula and require TSA to update its guidelines. Other important legislation includes the comprehensive reauthorization of the federal child nutrition programs, as well as an effort to provide 12 months of Medicaid postpartum coverage to new moms throughout the country, which is critical to lowering the nation’s maternal mortality rate. And we continue to advocate for the US to adopt a national paid leave policy to support all growing families after the arrival of a new baby.
SHARE OUR RESOURCES
Join us in fostering healthy returns to work for new parents. We invite you to share our findings with colleagues at your company, or those in your network at other organization. We have a host of resources available for employers, including toolkits, white papers and infographics that offer insights and recommendations on ways to support new and expectant parents.
¹Moms’ Thoughts on Breastfeeding Survey of 2,500 respondents, Medela, October 2022.
³Work Trend Index study of 31,000 people, Microsoft, 2022.
⁵Employee Benefits Survey, Society for Human Resource Management, 2022.
⁶Rocheleau et al, Promoting Worker Well-Being Through Maternal and Child Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.