Breastfed infants are at reduced risk for a variety of diseases, including asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).Yet, many mothers face significant hurdles in continuing to breastfeed upon returning to work. Nearly 60% don’t have a private space or adequate break time at work to express milk—among Black and Hispanic mothers, that number reaches 86%. Another study found that most women discontinue breastfeeding within the first month of returning to work.
Akron Children’s Hospital is working to slow this trend by collaborating with local businesses to promote breastfeeding on the job. “There’s a ton of barriers within the workplace that might cause a mom to cease breastfeeding sooner than she wants,” says Cesley Hayes, injury prevention specialist at Akron Children’s. “We are helping employers seek solutions to help parents and caregivers continue to breastfeed more exclusively and for longer durations after returning to work.”
Virtual meetings lead to new corporate policies
Hayes and her team at Akron Children’s held virtual meetings with 12 area employers last year to discuss the importance of breastfeeding and lactation policies in the workplace. The goals for these sessions included:
- Giving direction in creating or revising company lactation policies.
- Sharing insights on designated spaces for milk expression.
- Providing resources to help new parents successfully breastfeed, including coolers for milk storage, ice packs and resource guides.
To date, six of those businesses have adopted new lactation policies. Hayes is optimistic those changes will deliver widespread, long-term results. “It’s a whole community approach—not just helping our patients and families but providing education and services outside of these four walls,” Hayes says. “Hopefully by doing so, we're preventing future admissions to the hospital and could have a whole turnaround effect on the health of babies.”
Program promotes mothers’ health, employee morale
The benefits of the program extend beyond the long-term health of infants. Breastfeeding carries significant health advantages for the mother, too—including reduced risks of postpartum depression, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and ovarian and breast cancers.
For employers, formalizing lactation practices for employees can help them comply with—or even exceed—governmental regulations for breastfeeding workers. And promoting breastfeeding-friendly policies can set companies apart in a tight labor market.
“Something we've been trying to educate employers on is the importance of mothers doing this on work time or within the workplace,” Hayes says. “It’s not only the return on investment but just for the general health of the employee and their kiddos.”
Next steps: Targeted approach
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) will continue to fund the program through 2022. Hayes says this will enable Akron Children’s to not only broaden the program’s scope but also target businesses to maximize its impact.
“We're hoping to focus on more sectors that typically have higher employment rates of women within childbearing years—the health care industry, education, retail and child-care centers,” Hayes says. “We will see where our outreach takes us, but the word’s getting out about the program—it’s exciting.”