Hard-working professionals often face a tug of war between work and family life. Parents have important obligations aside from being productive in their careers, and for mothers just returning from maternity leave, the balancing act can be even tougher.
In today's economy, employers need to save money, yet keep employees happy and productive. A simple, low-cost benefit that helps family-oriented employees stay content and healthy and improves the bottom line is a corporate lactation program.
Creating a corporate lactation program requires minimal company resources and helps moms and babies stay healthy, resulting in fewer sick days and health care costs.
More importantly, it sends a message that companies want to help employees balance work and family - a benefit that everyone can appreciate.
What Is a Lactation Program?
Many new mothers strive to meet the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to breast-feed for at least a year because it provides babies with an easier transition from womb to world, improved emotional and physical development, and protection from asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and some childhood cancers.
They also can enjoy a few breast-feeding benefits themselves: help with post-pregnancy weight loss and protection from breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
At a minimum, a corporate lactation program allows mothers to breast pump at work in a private room with enough time off during the workday to produce milk. Some employers choose to offer other support, such as equipping the "mothers' room" with a private refrigerator, supplying a hospital-grade breast pump or offering consultation services from a certified lactation specialist.
Originally started in the 1980s by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the initial goal of a lactation program was to reduce absentee rates and employee turnover. As it turned out, offering special support for nursing mothers also reduced health care claim costs for infants whose mothers participated in the program.
In fact, studies have shown that companies with corporate lactation programs reported 27 percent fewer maternal days off and 36 percent fewer infant illnesses. In addition, these programs boost employee morale and acknowledge the difficulties faced by working moms.
Creating a successful lactation program requires employers to consider three questions.
Where Will Moms Express Milk?
Moms need a quiet, secure and relaxing environment to express milk. High stress can decrease milk supply, hindering the breast-feeding process. Creating a mothers' room can be as simple as converting an unused closet or empty office, depending on the company's resources.
Basic items to include in a mother's room include:
- Door with a lock from the inside.
- Chairs or couches.
- Breast pump(s).
- Outlets and lights.
Employers who'd like to equip the room with some extras can consider adding a refrigerator for storing pumped milk, running water for washing pumping accessories, a bulletin board with pictures of babies and soothing music.
What Will Moms Use to Express Milk?
Employers can either buy hospital-grade breast pumps for their employees to share or they can subsidize the cost for employees who purchase personal-use breast pumps.
Either way, there are some characteristics to look for in a breast pump for the workplace. A high-quality, double-electric breast pump leads to quicker pumping sessions, resulting in a faster return to work. Look for research-based breast pumps featuring 2-Phase Expression technology. This technology has been demonstrated to imitate a baby's natural sucking rhythm, which begins with rapid sucking to stimulate the milk ejection reflex, followed by longer, deeper sucking once milk starts to flow.
What Help Can Moms Get If They Have Questions?
While moms may have researched breast-feeding, they may still need guidance and support as they continue to breast pump at work. Breast-feeding mothers looking for help can consider tapping into resources such as La Leche League or local board-certified lactation consultants who can be found on ILCA.org.