The case for supporting new moms at work

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Packing frozen breast milk storage bags

Society is still placing unrealistic expectations on women in the workforce. About 70% of employed women are working moms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet despite this majority, women can still feel as if they need to choose between their career goals and family goals

As such, mothers can find themselves feeling inadequately supported at work due to an array of complex social issues, most notably the stigma attached to breastfeeding in the office. As a result many working moms decide to change jobs in order to find a more family forward environment.

If employers were to implement a lactation program, they could benefit from a $3 return for every $1 invested in their moms, in the form of decreased healthcare costs, increased productivity and lower rates of absenteeism, according to a study by the Families and Work Institute.

To understand how supporting moms benefits employers, first, it’s important to know the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants for six months before introducing them to different foods, while continuing to breastfeed for at least a year after the new foods are made part of the child’s diet.

Breastfeeding releases the oxytocin hormone, which assists with postpartum healing to help reduce bleeding and help the uterus contract to its normal size, helping to speed up recovery time after giving birth. Additionally, breast milk contains antibodies to help babies naturally become protected from viruses and infections.

As a result, moms and their infants are happier and healthier. Supporting mothers’ breastfeeding goals can do wonders for your business in terms of reduced costs and increased workplace positivity.

After taking a few steps to support their moms by implementing a lactation program, Cigna generated annual savings of $240,000 in reduced healthcare costs. Prescription pharmacy costs dropped by 62% and participants of the lactation program averaged the cost of $1,269 per newborn, while nonparticipants averaged $3,415.

Another business, Atlanta-based The Home Depot, generated $42,000 in savings due to a reduction in lost work after implementing their lactation program. Their absenteeism rate was also reduced from the national average of missing nine days of work due to caring for a sick infant down to only three.

About 83% of employees reported feeling more positive about their workplace at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and 67% of workers wanted to stay with the company as their longtime employer.

There is a common misconception that implementing a supportive lactation program is a time consuming or expensive process, when in reality it doesn’t take much to help working moms feel comfortable and supported. To create a breast pumping room all an employer needs is:

  • A private room with a locking door
  • A comfortable chair for moms to relax in
  • Flat surface to place breast pumps and accessories
  • Relaxing lighting and peaceful artwork
  • A mini-fridge for milk storage
  • A microwave for sanitizing breast pump supplies
  • Access to running water, if possible
  • A schedule for moms to work out pumping times
  • Access to electrical outlets

When it comes to showing employees your support, consider extending the maternity policy to at least six weeks, the average time it takes for women to feel mostly physically recovered from giving birth, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Further steps would be for managers to encourage employees to make them aware of their pumping schedules. Ensuring the HR department and supervisors are obligated to communicate the lactation policy. Employers can also consider implementing a zero-tolerance policy for unsupportive behavior toward new moms.

Employers should also be proactive in asking working moms what they need to ensure that the lactation room and policy meets their needs for a successful breastfeeding journey. Employers shouldn’t miss out on attracting and retaining talent when there is a simple, cost-cutting solution that also involves supporting women in the workforce.

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