Shipping breast milk emerges as an employee benefit

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Employers are always looking for ways to help new mothers transition back to the workplace. A trending benefit for new moms finds companies paying the tab to ship breast milk home when these women travel for business.

Professional services firm EY is a leader in this space with more than a decade of experience providing breast milk delivery kits to both travelling new moms and their partners/spouses. Other organizations offering similar benefits include IBM, Twitter, Accenture, SAP, Johnson & Jonson, Clif Bar and the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP.

Companies like Milk Stork provide the service to corporate clients, and some companies are developing their own self-administered programs that do the same thing in house.

Milk Stork’s CEO and founder CEO Kate Torgerson developed the concept after she experienced the challenges of expressing and bringing home breast milk when she was the new mother of twins. Milk Stork uses pharmaceutical-grade shipping coolers that provide a minimum of 72 hours of refrigeration. These are sent to the mother’s hotel room, along with breast milk storage bags, seals and instructions.

“The package basically has everything she needs to pack up her refrigerated milk, including pre-labeled and pre-addressed FedEx priority overnight shipping labels,” explains Torgerson. “After confirming FedEx pickup times, she drops the box off at the hotel desk to overnight it home.”

Companies can sign up with Milk Stork and be billed monthly, or mothers can access the service directly and submit the charges for reimbursement as a business expense. The cost is $139 per travel day on average. Retail clients also pay for shipping and handling.

Enterprise software company SAP has been a Milk Source client since the beginning of 2017. The new benefit was announced along with enhanced fertility benefits based on smart cycles instead of dollar limits.

Currently the company has 15,000 U.S. employees, 35% of whom are female. “We heard about Milk Stork in mid-2016,” says Jason Russell, SAP’s total rewards director. “We decided it makes sense for us as an organization because we want to keep female talent and not have women with children stepping out of the organization.”

Consultants and sales people who tend to travel regularly for work are the ones most likely to tap into the program. Only about 10 people have used the program to date, but, Russell says, “When you look at the actual number of births in the first six months to women who travel for work, we believe the benefit is being fully utilized.”

Although it is a niche benefit, he says the feedback even from employees who may never take advantage of the program has been excellent. “For a large software company, the modest cost of the program is never going to jump up as a line item, but I think people appreciate the small things that reinforce the culture of our organization,” he says.

Other nursing mother services

Other companies have chosen to provide a service similar to Milk Stork on their own. When the global law firm Latham & Watkins LLP opted to offer shipping breast milk as a benefit for their 4,500 employees and their life partners, they decided to develop a self-administered program tailored to their own requirements. In September 2016, they rolled out a program for Latham colleagues around the world.

“In the summer of 2015 IBM announced they were going to implement a program, and one of our associates asked, ‘Can we do this too?’” says Josh Friedlander, Latham’s chief human
resources officer. “It really started the journey to us saying, ‘Yeah we can do this. Why not?’”

Goals for the internally-administered program are that it be available to all Latham new mothers (and partners of new moms where their employer does not have a similar program) who travel for business, except where local regulations make transporting breast milk impossible. The law firm also designed a high-touch program that tracks the box from when it leaves the company office until it gets to the hotel, as well as the pickup and delivery of the package to its destination.

“We also work with nursing mothers to ensure that when they select a hotel it has a refrigerator in the room. Otherwise we provide them with extra storage boxes that last 92 hours and can operate as a mini-cooler,” Friedlander says. Boxes can be shipped out quickly and when there is a FedEx delay the case is escalated to ensure prompt delivery. “If there is a child waiting at home or a caregiver’s house, we will do everything we can, because that’s what our clients expect,” he adds

Parents find out about the program through word-of-mouth, various websites and a new guide for Latham associates. About 40 people have used the program over the past year, and Latham recently shipped its 113th box at a cost of about $80-$90 a shipment. “Our users tell us the program has been a lifesaver that has allowed them to transition back to work while retaining that special relationship with their child,” he says.

While the ability for mothers who travel to ship breast milk has generally been viewed as a win-win scenario for both employers and employees, Anne Weisberg, senior vice president of the Families and Work Institute, recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “This new raft of ‘perks’ shows how trapped we still are in a work culture that prizes total availability at the office at all times and how blind we are to the impact that norms at work have on roles at home.”

Nevertheless, increasing numbers of organizations are considering adding shipping breast milk to their already robust family friendly benefits. Friedlander encourages companies that may be thinking about implementing a program but are wary to contact him.

“We have worked with 20 or 30 of our competitors and our clients from New York to California to Hong Kong to Europe to help get them started,” Friedlander says. “We did it because we think it’s a best practice employers should adopt.”

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