Everyone wins with breastfeeding benefits. Here’s how to implement them

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With 25.1 million working mothers in our labor force, nearly every employer will have a new mom return to work at some point. More employers are realizing that breastfeeding not only benefits mom and baby, but also benefits them by decreasing turnover rates, reducing healthcare costs and increasing productivity.

For mom and baby, breastfeeding provides many benefits such as stronger immune systems, fewer infections and lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome. Breastfeeding also helps mothers physically recover from giving birth faster. New moms are able to return to work more quickly and require fewer days off to care for their sick child. As a result, company healthcare costs drop.

A few employers that have taken the steps to implement supportive breastfeeding programs are already seeing the benefits and savings from increased productivity and loyalty. For example, lower rates of absenteeism and fewer prescriptions.

For example, after implementing a breastfeeding program, health insurer Cigna experienced annual savings of $240,000 in healthcare expenses for mothers and their children, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The company also had a 77% decrease in lost work due to infant illnesses, creating annual savings of $60,000.

After supporting their working moms, The Home Depot reduced the absenteeism rate to only three days per nursing employee due to infant illnesses compared to the national average of nine days during the first year. This produced $42,000 in annual savings, HHS reports.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s lactation program lowered healthcare claims by 35%, improved employee positivity by 83% and 63% of employees said they intended to make this company their longtime employer.

Yet an Aeroflow Breastpumps survey discovered that many mothers still feel unsupported. A survey of 774 expecting mothers in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 40 determined that employers have a long way to go in terms of breastfeeding support. Almost 37% of participants believed there was a negative stigmatism attached to breastfeeding at work and 44% had a negative interaction with a coworker due to breastfeeding or pumping. Nearly half considered a career or job change because of the need to pump at work.

See also: Home Depot, TripAdvisor among dozens of companies adding breast milk shipping benefit

The right to breastfeed at work is protected by law. The FLSA states that employers must provide reasonable break time for all eligible mothers to express milk for their child for up to one year after giving birth. They are also required to provide a private space separate from a bathroom that's free from the intrusion of the public and coworkers, for the purpose of expressing breast milk.

All employers are subject to this provision unless the company has fewer than 50 employees and can prove that adhering to these measures would impose undue hardships.

What can employers do?

Update policies. Review your official breastfeeding policy and, if needed, update it to make sure your business is providing mothers with what they need.

Provide a lactation room. Create a room dedicated to breast pumping. This doesn’t have to be an expensive venture. The room should be comfortable and private and not a bathroom, with a chair for moms to relax in, surface to hold breast pumps and accessories, a locking door, storage for breast milk and a source of running water in the room or nearby.

Be loud and proud. Let your employees know about your supportive policy. Mention it in orientation and remind them about it during meetings. Lead by example and put an end to any negativity you hear directed towards maternity leaves or breast pumping.

Go to the source. If you aren’t exactly sure how to get started, ask your moms what they need. Let them know that they personally have your support. You’ll quickly see how much they appreciate the breastfeeding encouragement as workplace positivity and dedication increase.

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