5 Ways to Empower Breastfeeding Parents at Work

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From day one, 81% of mothers in the U.S. breastfeed their babies; but by month 6, this falls to 51%, according to the CDC. There can be many reasons for this, one of which is a lack of support when returning to work. August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and the perfect time for employers to take key steps to be more supportive of breastfeeding parents. 

One Maven member, a graphic designer who returned to work at five-weeks postpartum, shared her story:

“Pumping presented a huge challenge. There was no dedicated space for women to pump. I only got half-hour breaks, so I would eat my lunch while I pumped in the bathroom. It was so inconvenient that eventually I gave up pumping and breastfeeding altogether at about 3 months.”

It doesn’t have to be like this. 

Employers can take a few key steps to not only support but empower working parents to keep nursing, and Maven is here to help to improve the health of baby and mom, increase retention and productivity, and lower employers’ costs. 

Breastfeeding Awareness Month is an opportunity to review existing policies and implement new ones, starting with these five ways to empower breastfeeding parents in your workplace. 

1. Make your office pumping-friendly.

All offices should have a private lactation room that is designated only for pumping and fully functional. Here’s a quick checklist to make your office as comfortable and supportive as possible for new parents who are pumping: 

  • Each private lactation room in your office should have the following: a door that locks, a comfortable chair, a flat surface on which to place a pump, paper towels or wipes, a mirror, an electrical outlet, and a sink for easily cleaning and sterilizing pumping supplies. 

  • Designate shelves in a shared refrigerator or freezer for breast milk or—better yet—put a refrigerator in the pumping room that’s only for breast milk.

  • Consider providing a hospital-grade pump for employees to use in the office with ample equipment for sterilizing between uses.

2. Embed flexibility and encourage parents to set pumping schedules. 

When returning to work, women need to pump as often as they breastfed—every 2-3 hours—in order to maintain their milk supply as well as avoid leaking, pain, and serious infections like mastitis. While the frequency of pumping may decrease as a baby grows, it’s important to give women control over when they pump and for how long. Ensure working parents feel ownership and flexibility over their own schedules, and encourage them to block time for pumping on their calendars when they return from leave. Assure them that they have the support of their manager and HR in respecting their schedules. 

3. Provide employees access to meet with a Lactation Consultant and/or a Back-to-Work Coach on Maven. 

“I suffered from mastitis (inflammation that prevented me from breastfeeding) after my baby was born and thanks to Maven, got in touch with a doctor and a Lactation Consultant the same day! Had it not been for Maven, I would’ve been navigating my condition (which I had no clue about!) alone.” 

This Maven member illuminates why Lactation Consultants are one of the top provider types our members are booking appointments with in the postpartum period. They can make all the difference in navigating the complex, emotional, and frustrating world of breastfeeding and pumping, and provide helpful guidance on milk supply, latching issues, pain, or the like. Career Coaches can also help prepare employees for conversations they’ll need to have about setting expectations and respecting their schedule when they return to work, and can provide guidance for making requests if a work environment could do more to meet their needs.  

4. Train managers and employees to understand policies, set expectations, and be respectful of colleagues’ schedules. 

Let’s be real: many working parents report feeling a “breastfeeding stigma” from their coworkers and making it the responsibility of an individual to communicate their rights to coworkers can worsen negative interactions or even harassment between colleagues. A simple solution? Educate all employees—not just managers and new parents—about women’s breastfeeding needs and the company policies in place to support them. Set clear expectations and hold managers accountable in helping you create a culture that is respectful of colleagues who are pumping. 

5. Offer breast milk shipping benefits.  

When traveling for work, maintaining pumping becomes even more complex, with the added time and pressure of researching and arranging travel logistics and accommodations. Offering breast milk shipping like Maven Milk can go a long way toward making work travel less stressful, helping to increase satisfaction and retention. Maven Milk offers convenient domestic and international travel kits, with care advocates who do all the legwork including researching pumping rooms, scheduling pumping into your work travel schedule, and making sure your kit is at your accommodations when you arrive.