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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.

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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.

Lucy Castro

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.

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.

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

Congreso spent $500 to create a separate space for nursing moms

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.


  • Katja Pigur says:

    I would like to clarify that I am not suggesting that nursing employees are abusing a workplace breastfeeding policy. HR departments are putting a lot of effort in developing a policy that makes sense for employees and the employer. During that process questions and concerns are raised, and one of them is how general or specific the policy should be worded. Ultimately, a breastfeeding policy is written to make sure that all nursing employees across the company have the right to pump at work while still complying with their work responsibilities.Although the law states that nursing breaks are unpaid, many employers don’t ask mom to work extra hours if the work gets done. And yes Lindsey I agree, there still needs to happen a lot around our breastfeeding culture here (and in general when it comes to supporting working mothers and families, for example paid maternity leave etc.), but this new law is at least a start to normalize and value again breastfeeding within the American culture!

  • realistic mom says:

    In defense of Mrs.Pijur, I don’t see anything wrong with her statement. The reality is that we live in a country that policies are implemented for the benefit of the people and although many people don’t abuse the privileges, there will always be a few that will. It is possible to abuse breast pumping rooms. Some women may pump numerous times a day versus setting a schedule for themselves, some may be on their cell phones in the room when they are suppose to be pumping or after they have finished pumping. So there really isn’t a need for people to get so offended when we all know that we live in a society where there’s a will there’s a way and people will find a way to ruin a good thing.

  • Taunya English says:

    I think it is a misreading of this story to suggest that breastfeeding consultant Katja Pijur is implying that moms would abuse the policy. Her job is to go to worksites and talk with HR managers about whatever concerns and questions workers have.

    From my reporting those concerns run the gamut — from nursing moms who worry that they will be perceived as “unprofessional” if they take time out for lactation — to other workers who think they should be given “equal” break time to “go home and walk the dog.”

  • Lindsey Khatri says:

    I don’t know a single breastfeeding mom who would abuse the policy. What a ridiculous and insulting thing to imply. Are you going to make women prove they are lactating before you give them a key to the room? Jeez. Come on people. It is seriously time for this country to realize that we have the most anti-breastfeeding culture in the world and remedy it!

  • NY Mama says:

    Abuse the policy? I don’t even see how a mom could abuse the policy.

    In office work situations I think the majority of returning mothers are concerned about their status in the office being compromised, so they aren’t inclined to go sit in the lactation room and take a nap. And if it is only unpaid time according to the policy (lame), then there is no incentive to waste time.

  • Elizabeth Brooks says:

    Other business should follow the example of Ms. Castro’s employer. Helping mothers to maintain lactation when they return to work is one of the cheapest “employee benefits” a boss can provide! Moms AND babies stay healthy (and aren’t going to the doctor’s office … and don’t have to use their employer-funded health insurance). Moms are grateful to committed, caring employers, and work harder! Win-win.

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