In the spirit of upcoming National Breastfeeding Month, it’s important to note that although breastfeeding discrimination and practices have improved, there is still quite a bit of work to be done.
The Difficulties Breastfeeding Mothers Face
Despite women making up nearly half of our current workforce, a number that is growing rapidly, there is a surprising lack of awareness in the workplace of the protections that breastfeeding women are entitled to. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must provide reasonable break time for mothers to express breast milk for their infant up to one year after their birth. They must also provide a private space free from the intrusion of the public and coworkers for the purpose of expressing breast milk.
Yet, many employers still do not abide by these guidelines. Recently, Aeroflow Healthcare conducted a survey of 1,048 American adults to assess perceptions of breastfeeding and pumping, and found that one-in-three people do not believe employers should be required to provide a lactation room for nursing mothers. And that number increases for employers with unconventional workplaces (teaching, construction, law enforcement, etc.).
Unfortunately, this leaves many new moms feeling as if they have to choose between their career and their breastfeeding goals. In fact, due to the negative stigmas attached to breastfeeding, nearly half of working moms feel the need to quit working or seek a more family forward employer in order to provide breast milk for their babies.
But, this issue of breastfeeding discrimination doesn’t begin and end in the workplace, it expands to any mom who chooses to breastfeed or breast pump in any public area. Our new survey also found that 1-in-4 people find breastfeeding or using a breast pump in public inappropriate and that new moms should not be allowed to breastfeed or pump in clear view of the public. Ironically enough, 61% of people think it’s unacceptable to breastfeeding or breast pump in a restaurant, which is a public place of eating!
How Can We End the Stigma?
When considering these attitudes, it’s important to note that research clearly indicates that because breastfeeding can lead to better health outcomes for both mom and baby, and those who support nursing moms will reap benefits as well. Employers who provide these accommodations to nursing and pumping women see reduced healthcare costs, improved company culture and morale, and increased retention rates, and businesses who provide these accommodations will build an army of loyal customers among new moms. Look at the response Target received when they declared their stores ‘breastfeeding friendly’!
So, what can be done to span the divide between stigmas and the health and economic case for breastfeeding?
We can start in our own communities, with measures as small as supporting the new moms in your own circle or encouraging your employer to provide breaks and a lactation room for an expecting coworker. Ultimately, our hope is that further research and discussion will raise awareness of the pressure and discomfort that women endure when trying to breastfeed. That way, whether mom hopes to breastfeed for a week, for two years, or to supplement with formula, she has the support she needs to make that possible.
Keep Going, Mama!
My advice to new and expectant moms is to be your own advocate. Begin talking with your employer about the plan for your return to work before you take maternity leave, and include breastfeeding accommodations as part of that conversation. And when you’re out in public, don’t be afraid to speak up to a manager or employee of an establishment where you felt unwelcome to breastfeed or pump, whether by an employee or another customer.
Breastfeeding is surprisingly challenging and time-consuming! It may be natural, but that doesn’t make it easy. You really do need to be in a comfortable space, in the right mindset and with all the proper equipment in order to be successful. We need to keep rallying behind new moms and working hard to normalize breastfeeding and give them the support and resources they deserve!