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As we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, 170 countries will be taking part in activities to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding to maternal and infant health around the world. This year’s theme is “Talk to Me! Breastfeeding—a 3 D Experience,” and focuses on using communication to break down barriers and to encourage sectors outside the health care field to participate in the breastfeeding dialogue. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has specifically chosen to engage youth as a valuable ally in increasing intergenerational communication about breastfeeding.

Another valuable ally in this public health movement, however, is the business community. Building on this year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week, a critical way to enhance communication across sectors and create awareness for breastfeeding is to engage employers. Communicating with and engaging the business community is especially important given that the workplace is a significant barrier to breastfeeding for women, especially those in hourly, low-wage positions.

We know that 77 percent of mothers in retail or lower-wage jobs give up breastfeeding after returning to work, despite its health and business benefits. This is because continuing to breastfeed at work is so difficult-- especially for those who don't have access to a clean or private place to pump milk, scheduling flexibility to do so, or supportive managers and colleagues.

Health care reform was intended to address this problem last year-- for the first time, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require employers to provide nonexempt nursing mothers with reasonable break time and a sanitary, private space, that is not a bathroom, to pump milk at work.

The rationale for this amendment was based on the benefits of breastfeeding to working families and businesses. Given that mothers with infants are one of the largest and fastest-growing segments in the workforce, particularly in lower-wage industries, helping to support nursing mothers at work is a priority for the economic security and health of mothers, infants and working families in America.

We also know that there is a business case for breastfeeding. Best practice employers have long known that work-life supports like lactation programs improve bottom-line results. Businesses that support nursing mothers have realized cost savings of $3 for every $1 invested in breastfeeding support. Through improved recruitment, retention, productivity and lower health care costs, supporting nursing mothers at work makes good business sense.

As a human resources consultant at PNC Financial Services Group, one of Corporate Voices’ corporate partners, stated, “At PNC, providing breastfeeding support has a positive business impact through an increase in prospective qualified applicants, employee productivity, retention and reduced absenteeism. It also is simply the right thing to do. From corporate policies to administration by managers, PNC’s culture advocates for and accommodates a working mother’s need for a lactation room.”

While the new federal lactation law spotlighted an important health issue and helped remove the workplace as a barrier to breastfeeding, there is still much to be done to educate businesses about lactation programs and workplace support for nursing mothers. This is because even after passage of the law, only 28 percent of businesses have lactation rooms. And, according to a survey commissioned by Workplace Options and conducted by Public Policy Polling, 57 percent of people are not aware of the new federal workplace lactation law.

It is therefore evident that to help ensure successful implementation of the law, we need to help make tools and resources available to employers to educate them about the benefits of breastfeeding, and about how to set up successful lactation programs.

That is why Corporate Voices for Working Families released an updated version of its online workplace lactation toolkit earlier this year. This toolkit offers free, high-quality and up-to-date guides to help employers comply with the new lactation law and establish lactation programs. Titled “Healthy Babies Make Happy Moms and Excellent Employees,” the toolkit includes:

  • Employer talking points to help facilitate a conversation about breastfeeding
  • Lactation room checklists and worksheets
  • Breastfeeding resources fliers
  • Breastfeeding tips and techniques in 21 languages
  • Break Room and Lactation Room posters
  • Success stories, and more.

Features of the toolkit, like the Employer Talking Points, will support the communications theme of World Breastfeeding Week by helping to facilitate a workplace friendly conversation about breastfeeding between employers and employees. Recognizing there may be a stigma attached to starting a conversation about a very personal issue at work, these talking points encourage supervisors to break the ice, offering words of encouragement and letting expecting mothers know that lactation support will exist for them.

By making these tools and resources available to employers, Corporate Voices is working to close the gap in lactation support, and help working families and businesses become healthier and more competitive in the 21st century. Hopefully best practices in American might encourage wider lactation support for mothers around the world.

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