Breastfeeding in the workplace

Struggles women face when returning to work while breastfeeding.

Babies who are breastfed have fewer health problems than babies who are formula fed. Unfortunately, many women find it difficult to breastfeed for the year recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. One reason for this is the struggle women often face when returning to work. Few employers allow women to bring their babies to work, and pumping during the work day may seem difficult or unfair to other employees. There is, however, a business case to be made for encouraging a woman to express milk at work so that her baby can continue to receive breast milk even when the mother is absent. Michigan State University Extension has found that allowing women to pump at work increases retention of experienced employees who return to work after having a baby, reduces the sick time taken by mothers and fathers for children’s sicknesses and decreases health insurance costs.

These cost savings have been measured by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that $3.6 billion dollars in medical expenses could be saved each year if 50 percent of infants in our country were breastfed for at least six months. These findings led to federal health reform for nursing mothers under the Affordable Care Act, which was signed by President Obama in March 2010. The amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to provide breastfeeding mothers reasonable break time to express milk for up to a year after the birth of her child, though these breaks do not need to be paid. The employer must also provide a private place for the mother to express breast milk that is not a bathroom. Employers are exempt from these laws if they have fewer than 50 employees. Michigan is one of the 26 states that do not have state laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.

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