Employer policies can make it more difficult for the mothers of new babies to continue breastfeeding, despite the health benefits associated with this practice.
While 75% of women choose to breastfeed their babies, only 40% will continue breastfeeding after they return to work.
However, one study found that women who work at companies with policies to support breastfeeding are more likely to continue breastfeeding for at least six months, as recommended by current guidelines.
In an article in The Nurse Practitioner, written by Rhonda Winegar and Alisha Johnson, key elements of a successful workplace breastfeeding policy have been identified. These include providing appropriate breaks and a suitable area for women to pump breast milk, as well as a storage facility for the expressed milk (such as a refrigerator), if requested.
The costs of such policies are relatively low, and are likely to be offset by the potential savings from fewer employee absences, lower healthcare costs and less employee turnover.
According to Winegar and Johnson, “Breastfeeding yields many important benefits to both mother and infants, yet workplace barriers contribute to low rates of breastfeeding.”
In the United States, breastfeeding is considered a personal choice, and legislation in support of breastfeeding in the workplace is more limited than in most other countries.
Employers may be unlikely to adopt breastfeeding promotion programs unless there are regulations to support them. The ‘Break Time for Nursing Mothers’ provision of the Affordable Care Act includes protections covering some employees and workplaces. In addition, 28 states (along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia) have laws in place regarding breastfeeding in the workplace.
“Nurse practitioners should stay current on current legislation and community resources that are available to support breastfeeding once these patients return to work,” Winegar and Johnson wrote.
Other steps to promote continued breastfeeding range from prescribing an electric breast pump or arranging for a lactation consultant, to dealing with common concerns such as milk leakage on work clothes.
Winegar and Johnson state that, “Nurse practitioners can positively influence the incidence of breastfeeding and ultimately improve the health of society in general.”
The article appears as part of a special Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) theme issue of The Nurse Practitioner. In a video podcast, Rhonda Winegar discusses the personal experiences that led to her advocacy for policies to support breastfeeding in the workplace, and inspired her to become a DNP.
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