The business case for breastfeeding
Tuesday, October 5th, 2010
For many new moms, the moment they head back to work is the turning point when their plans to breastfeed fall through. WHYY reports on federal — and Philadelphia — plans to support nursing mothers on the job.
Breastmilk protects against ear and respiratory infections and may lower a baby’s risk of developing diabetes later in life. So Lucy Castro is hoping to follow her doctor’s advice and provide her 10-month old daughter with breastmilk for a year.Castro: You need time to pump, you have to have time. If you don’t pump you lose your supply. So if your baby is a newborn, she needs more milk, and you might have to pump two, three times.
Castro is a case manager at Congreso de Latinos Unidos. She counsels teen parents about the health boost and bonding that come with breastfeeding, so when Castro returned to work, she was a little overwhelmed but determined to keep nursing.
Castro: I said how am I going to keep up with my clients, my paperwork and breastfeeding.
Turns out she didn’t have to worry.
Castro: My co-workers were like encouraging me; ‘Oh, you can do it.’ I always get that support from them. It’s OK, you can go and pump. This is not a place that will tell you: ‘No, you can’t do that.’ They respect that.
Castro is a salaried, office worker, but experts say low-wage workers such as cashiers and waitresses are less likely to have an employer that accommodates moms. Under the new federal health law, employers are now required to give hourly workers unpaid break time for lactation.
Thall: Which is going to be hard, because it’s very hard to give a Septa bus driver that opportunity. So it’s going to take some creativity on the part of employers.
Letty Thall is public policy director at the Maternity Care Coalition. Philadelphia is paying her group to help businesses become friendlier places for women who breastfeed. The federal law says worksites have to provide a private space for mothers to express milk, and Thall says asking women to perch in a ladies-room stall doesn’t cut it.
Thall: The Department of Health would not approve if employers chose to have lunchrooms in the bathroom, or bathrooms in the lunchroom, and for the same reason breastfeeding needs to occur in a non-bathroom situation.
Castro’s desk is an open cubicle. So early on, when she needed to set up her breast pump, the 26-year-old sat among cardboard boxes in a vacant office. But you need to relax to pump efficiently and Castro was always rushing and on-alert for an interruption.
Castro: I actually had a door opened on me before while I was pumping. Um, so it’s not private.Congreso spent $500 to create a separate space for nursing moms, and Castro says best of all the room has a doorknob sign that asks colleagues to “please knock.”
Maternity Care consultant Katja Pijur helps human resource managers work through the logistics of lactation on the job.
Pijur: Is she feeling uncomfortable because other people know what she’s doing in there? Is it a good idea to put up a computer in the lactation room because some employees might want to still check their emails, or even do some phone calls. Are you going to hear the noise of the pumping machine? All these things, I mean these things come up.
The coalition lays out the business case for breastfeeding, including lower health care costs and moms who take less time off to care for a sick baby.
Pijur tries to introduce the new policy in ways that leave other employees confident that they won’t be saddled with extra work when moms go off to pump.
Pijur: There is the wish to really offer the accommodation, but then also we have to be very concrete because we want to avoid that perhaps then some people might abuse the policy.
The new law is mostly for large businesses with 50 or more workers. Smaller companies can get an exemption if they prove that providing break time for nursing mothers would cause an undue hardship.
Each year, the Maternity Care Coalition honors businesses that support mothers who breastfeed. This year the coalition recognized The Health Federation of Philadelphia’s Early Head Start Program; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and the Trolley Car Diner.