Despite the attention the issue has received and the increasing number of new moms who want to—or need to—quickly return to their jobs, the stigma against breastfeeding at work remains.
In fact, a recent survey of expecting moms showed that almost 63% still felt that stigma associated with breastfeeding. Jennifer Jordan, director of mom & baby for Aeroflow Healthcare (Aeroflow Breastpumps), said those continuing problems may have many causes.
“There are false ideas that working moms receive preferential treatment because they get a maternity leave—which some see as a vacation—multiple pumping breaks during the day, the ability to leave early or take days off to care for their child, and more,” Jordan said in an email interview. “But these aren’t breaks, a vacation, or in any way indicative that mom is less committed to her work than any other employee. And unfortunately, this incorrect perception could contribute to the 30% drop in pay women experience after having a child.”
The survey that identified the ongoing breastfeeding stigma was conducted for Aeroflow in September by SurveyMonkey. It included responses from 774 U.S. expectant mothers, primarily between the ages of 18 and 40.
More than 75% of respondents to the survey said they expected to breastfeed after returning to work. However, 49% said they were concerned that breastfeeding at work could negatively impact their career growth, and 47% said the need to breast pump at work had made them consider a job or career change. Almost 35% said they had experienced a negative interaction with a colleague because of breastfeeding or pumping.
Jordan said her team members had heard stories from moms who struggled to breast pump in unsupportive work environments, but they were still shocked by these numbers.
The good news, she said, is that the atmosphere seems to be improving, if slowly. As more women return to work after having babies, companies’ approaches to breastfeeding will have to change.
“Greater awareness around breastfeeding benefits (to mom, baby, and employer), having open conversations and policies in place, and mom’s access to quality, portable breast pumps covered by insurance are all part of a better, more supportive atmosphere,” Jordan said.
The survey showed that only about 47% of respondents’ employers had a designated lactation area at the office that included everything a breastfeeding mother would need. Another 13% had an area moms could use, but that was not designed for pumping.
“I would love to see every company provide a private and functional space dedicated for the purpose of breast pumping so moms have a place to relax and express milk for their child as needed,” Jordan said. “We have received pictures of moms breast pumping in a supply closet, their vehicles, or supervisor’s office, all of which are less than ideal locations.
“And it doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. There are many resources to help employers build a lactation room that can work for all.”
Another great way to help moms is to provide flexible work schedules. For example, with flexible work, moms can alter their work hours so they can get needed rest despite late-night feedings. This is just one benefit of flex that will lead to happier, healthier, more productive moms.
The fact is, everyone can play a role in helping to improve the atmosphere for breastfeeding mothers at work, Jordan said.
“For employers or coworkers, lead by example,” she said. “Stop any negative comments as soon as you hear them, let moms know they have your support, and offer your help if needed. And anyone can advocate for a working mom’s rights to a private place to pump and reasonable time to express breastmilk under the Fair Labor Standards Act.”
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