Moms lack support in workplace

A U study found that women need private spaces and break time to pump milk at work.

Sadman Rahman

New mothers may abandon breastfeeding if their workplace lacks the space to pump milk, according to a recent study.
 
Fewer than half of breastfeeding mothers have adequate break time and the private space to pump breast milk at work, and the resource gap could result in sicker children, a University of Minnesota School of Public Health study published Tuesday found.
 
Though employers with more than 50 workers are required by the Affordable Care Act to provide time and space for breastfeeding, only 40 percent of women reported access to both.
 
The study surveyed women who gave birth between 2011 and 2012 and found women were 2.3 times more likely to breastfeed their six-month-old children if they had space and time at work to pump milk.
 
But lead researcher and associate professor of health policy and management Katy Kozhimannil said new mothers could have trouble getting access to those resources if employers aren’t sure how to be accommodating.
 
Low-income and single mothers faced greater barriers to breastfeeding at work, Kozhimannil said, because they often work for smaller companies that aren’t required to provide resources, and they may be unsure of how to advocate for themselves.
 
Employers don’t have bad intentions, assistant professor of nonprofit and public management and leadership Carrie Oelberger said. 
 
They’re often childless women or men who don’t consider breastfeeding needs, she said. 
 
“It’s a hard thing for anyone, and its particularly hard for people who have [less] access to  financial, emotional and social resources to help support them in their breastfeeding,” Kozhimannil said.
 
Single mothers might also have difficulty finding time to pump milk because they’re taking on responsibilities they’d usually share with a partner, Oelberger said, adding that those mothers could become dissatisfied with a job because of the hassle of finding privacy.
 
For women who value breastfeeding but are unable to do it because of workplace practices, there will definitely be tension in the workplace, she said.
 
Kozhimannil said breastfeeding can have several long-term health benefits for babies, like lowering their chances of obesity and illness later in life.
 
And because breastfeeding lowers a baby’s chance of getting sick, employers can benefit from providing mothers with proper space and time, Kozhimannil said, because mothers would need less time off to take care of ill children and the company could save on health care costs.
 
Oelberger said providing employees with spaces outside of bathrooms, which can be unhygienic, requires creative allocation of existing space over building new spaces.
 
For example, she said, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs  converted a room on the third floor of their building this week into a breastfeeding station, which could save employees time during their day.
 
“Generally people find that proximity, running water and a refrigerator are sort of the three important things for people, and probably privacy,” Oelberger said.