Worksite Support for Breastfeeding

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The Business Case for Breastfeeding

Supporting breastfeeding employees through a babies-at-work program or worksite lactation support has a significant payoff for businesses. Savings are seen in the areas of greater retention of experienced employees; reduction in sick time taken by both moms and dads for children's illnesses; and lower health care and insurance costs.

  • Breastfeeding employees miss work less often. Breastfed infants are healthier. Human milk boosts an infant's immune system and helps protect him from common childhood illnesses, infections, and dermatitis. One-day absences to care for sick children occur more than twice as often for mothers of formula feeding infants.

  • Breastfeeding lowers health care costs. The reduced health care costs for breastfed infants translate into lower medical insurance claims for businesses. Babies who are not breastfed visit the physician more often, spend more days in the hospital, and require more prescriptions than breastfed infants. The insurance company CIGNA conducted a 2-year study of 343 employees who participated in their lactation support program, and found that the program resulted in an annual savings $240,000 in health care expenses, 62 percent fewer prescriptions, and $60,000 savings in reduced absenteeism rates.

  • Investing in a worksite lactation support program can yield substantial dividends to the company. Just a few of these important dividends include lower turnover rates, additional health care savings, higher productivity and loyalty, and positive public relations. Although 80 percent of its employees are male, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power found that a lactation support program for mothers, fathers, and partners of male employees made a dramatic difference in reducing turnover and absenteeism rates for both male and female workers. They also found that 83 percent of employees were more positive about the company as a result of the program, and 67 percent intended to make it their long-term employer.

What is a lactation support program?

  • Privacy to Express Milk - If women do not work in a private office, a small private space with an electrical outlet (as small as 4' by 5') can be set up for a lactation room. A breastfeeding mom needs to express milk approximately every 3 hours to maintain a healthy milk supply and remain comfortable while separated from her infant. Employees should never be asked to express milk or breastfeed in a restroom. Breastmilk is food and restrooms are an unsanitary place to prepare food.

  • Flexible Breaks - Each milk expression session usually takes about 15 minutes plus time to get to and from the lactation room. Breastfeeding employees typically need no more than an hour per work day to express milk, which can easily be divided between usual paid breaks and meal period. If milk expression takes longer, a common solution is to allow employees the flexibility to come in early or stay late, or to use a portion of their lunch period to make up time. Providing support is a temporary need for each breastfeeding employee. Once babies begin eating solid foods at 6 months, milk expression requirements gradually diminish.

  • Education - employees value information they receive during their pregnancy about continuing to breastfeed upon returning to work. Policies, pamphlets, and resources can help employees feel more prepared.

  • Support - Supportive policies and practices that enable women to successfully return to work and breastfeed send a message to all employees that breastfeeding is valued. Management can encourage all employees to exhibit a positive, accepting attitude.

The information above is from The Business Case for Breastfeeding published in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau.