In California, 92% of mothers initiate breastfeeding — these rates drop dramatically after families leave the hospital, with only 57% exclusively still breastfeeding at three months of age. This decrease can be attributed to many barriers breastfeeding mothers face.
If more mothers were able to breastfeed longer, the United States could save an estimated $13 billion in health care costs. In the U.S. workforce, 62% of all mothers have infants. Policy, systems and environmental change strategies can significantly impact the number of working mothers able to continue to breastfeed.
Imagine a scenario in which a new mother, traveling for her job via an airline, arrives late due to a flight delay. Affected passengers on a delayed flight are usually worried about missing meetings, appointments and family gatherings. An uncomfortable mother, on the other hand, has an additional worry — how and where she is going to pump her breastmilk before rushing to her meeting. This mother hurriedly departs the plane hoping to find somewhere, other than a restroom, to pump her breastmilk – think about her relief if she were to see a sign for a designated lactation room!
Instead of feeling defeated, she reaches her appointment confident that she can indeed travel, work and continue to provide her baby with the best nutrition.
In another scenario, a working mother arrives at a convention center to attend a four-day national conference. She has just recently come back from maternity leave and is determined to exclusively breastfeed for six months. She waits in line to register and inquires about the availability of a private area where she will be able to pump while attending the conference. Preparing for the worst, she readies herself to be directed to the nearest restroom, but to her surprise, the attendant informs her that there is a designated lactation room for her use. She hurries to join the conference with assurance that she will be able to both comfortably participate in the conference while still managing to adhere to her desire for exclusive breastfeeding.
In a third scenario, a pregnant woman is discussing her approaching maternity leave with her employer. She is worried about how she will continue to breastfeed when she returns to work, but is not certain how to approach her supervisor regarding her concerns. She is surprised and delighted when the Human Resources representative informs her that her employer has implemented a lactation accommodation policy to support breastfeeding employees. The pregnant employee now feels more confident about returning to work knowing she will be supported in meeting her breastfeeding goals.
In a similar scenario across town, yet another working mother from an engineering office has been in back-to-back meetings. She arrives early for her next meeting in hopes of finding a space, other than a restroom, to pump her breastmilk. As she hurries in the door she notices the international breastfeeding sign in the lobby – to her delight the company is breastfeeding friendly! When she inquires about a space to pump, the receptionist proudly offers the use of their lactation room. This company really exemplifies their support for working and breastfeeding mothers. The working mother is able to feel prepared for her meeting leading to a win/win for everyone!
In conclusion, as exemplified in the above scenarios, policy, systems and environmental (PSE) change strategies can assist in breaking down barriers associated with breastfeeding and working – this encourages more mothers to initiate breastfeeding for a longer period of time, which can make all the difference in the end!