Businesses see value in supporting breastfeeding
More firms providing areas for employees, customers
When Lindsey Gallant returned to work after giving birth to her first child, she was forced to pump breast milk in a closet converted to a phone room in the campus planning department of a Massachusetts university.
“The door to the closet had a window in it, and while I taped sheets of paper for privacy, they inevitably failed,” said Gallant. “In fact, a coworker once peered in over the top of a sheet of curling paper, perplexed by the noisy sound of my pump.”
The second time around, she was working at ReVision Energy, a Brentwood-based solar energy company that received a nearly $5,000 grant to create a lactation room with a portable sink, recliner and other amenities.
“Everything I needed was contained in one private space. This had a significant impact on my stress levels and the increase in efficiency meant I could get much more accomplished throughout my workday,” said Gallant.
The process also led ReVision to develop a formal policy regarding breaks for nursing moms.
Allowing 15-to-20-minute breaks every few hours as well as a dedicated space for employees to pump breast milk, or nurse infants brought to the office by a caregiver, can save employers on healthcare, absenteeism and turnover costs, in addition to establishing loyal employees, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2011 “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.” For some employers, reasonable break time and a clean space to pump are explicitly required by federal law.
Lissa Sirois, lactation consultant and administrator of the nutrition services section of the state Division of Public Health Services, noticed a significant change in the conversation regarding breastfeeding and the workplace with the release of the “Call to Action.”
“I would say that was the national trigger to put gaps in breastfeeding on the radar, and we’ve seen tons of activity and a lot of federal dollars released to support activity across the country,” said Sirois.
Those funds include a three-year, $146,896 grant awarded by the NH Department of Health and Human Services in 2018, with funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to Keene State College Public Health Faculty to help employers improve or create lactation support policies and spaces.
In the first two cycles, 22 work sites have created or improved lactation rooms in 32 different spaces in New Hampshire, including ReVision Energy, Compass Behavior, AutoServ of Tilton, Gilford Elementary School, Manchester Community College and McLean Communications, publisher of NH Business Review.
To better understand employer attitudes toward supporting nursing moms, Sirois conducted a survey of representatives from 72 companies in New Hampshire as part of her thesis as a master’s student at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. Some 39% indicated about 25% of their employee base was of childbearing age (18-40 years old) while a quarter stated that demographic made up about half of their staff.
“They agree and understand the importance of supporting breastfeeding in the office. I assume a lot of people who responded to this were in favor of family-friendly workplaces, so there’s definitely a limitation of the data,” said Sirois, who acknowledged that the survey served more as a pilot than a fully comprehensive survey, as 33% of respondents worked in the healthcare industry, where Sirois has connections.
However, the survey did reflect issues in the broader business community.
“I think some of the gaps are employers don’t understand the healthcare savings they can take advantage of and they don’t realize the role of recruitment and retention in providing breastfeeding support, and for me that shows there is work we can do,” she said.
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released “The Business Case for Breastfeeding,” which included a case study from 2001 of Mutual of Omaha’s maternity and lactation program.
Mutual of Omaha found healthcare costs were three times lower for babies whose mothers participated in their company’s lactation program, with a yearly savings of $115,881 in healthcare claims for mothers and babies. The program also led to a retention rate of 83% of their maternity workforce, compared to a national average of only 59%.
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study that revealed serious colds and ear and throat infections were reduced by 63% in infants who exclusively breastfed for six months. The organization recommends babies are breastfed until they are one-year-old.
“It makes good sense,” said Dan Dube, CEO of Compass Behavior. “I know with my own kids, the pediatrician always said nursing is the best approach for the baby’s health.”
Installing a lactation room hadn’t occurred to Dube before hearing about the grant. “When we discussed it with our HR team, it was just a no-brainer. We were very enthusiastic about it,” he said.
Compass provides clinical behavioral services for autistic children as well as speech and occupational therapy at its three locations around New Hampshire.
“We are a pretty fast-growing company. In five years, we’re up to 90 employees, and the vast majority of people who provide these services are young women in their 20s, so when we found out about this grant opportunity, we applied to it to outfit all three locations with a mothers room,” said Dube.
Compass first completed renovating the mothers room at its Concord office in time for an employee returning from maternity leave while it wraps up final touches for its Nashua and Keene locations. There are a few employees who are currently pregnant or out on maternity.
“As an employer, we want to stand apart from other organizations that do the work we do. We have to take care of our employees first, and that’s going to be ultimately in the best interest of the clients they work with,” said Dube. “This is service-based business with highly qualified professionals that go through extensive training and certification. We always schedule a couple of people for backup floater roles, but the kids develop bonds with the therapist they work with — especially children with autism, they thrive on routine and structure. It interrupts their progress.”
Claremont-based information technology solutions provider Red River did not receive a grant, but did receive an award from the New HampshireBreastfeeding Taskforce, made up of nurses and healthcare professionals, for its lactation room and supportive policies.
In 2014, the company was growing rapidly, with a majority of employees of the age they may start a family. So when the sixth floor was being renovated, the company set aside space for a lactation room.
“We no longer have to compete for meeting room space,” said Nicole Sherburne, benefits manager at Red River in Claremont. “[Employees were] highly appreciative of the space and the privacy, but I think they were most appreciative of the dedicated refrigerator to keep their breast milk.”
The room can be booked via Microsoft Outlook Calendar, and Red River acts quickly on employee suggestions, such as the installation of a mirror or providing coat hangers.
“I think our employees enjoy working for an employer who will do more than the bare minimum — we’re going to set up a sink, we’re going to do all we can in the room to make it the best room possible and we’re going to improve it every time there is a suggestion,” said Sherburne.
The company has even uses the breastfeeding-friendly employers logo to promote the benefit.
According to the CDC, while 87.4% of infants in New Hampshire are initially breastfed, only 30.2% are exclusively breastfed for six months (though 64.7% were still breastfed in some capacity at six months) and 45.6% are breastfed until one-year-old, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.
“87% of babies are breastfed after delivery — that’s almost nine out of 10; that’s incredible,” said Sirois. “The hospitals are definitely to thank for that effort, and then once they go home, it’s family support, community, employers, child care — those are all pieces that touch the mom and baby. We know from looking at the literature, moms are more likely to breastfeed longer if they have a supportive workplace.”
Only a third of those who took Sirois’ survey knew they had a written breastfeeding policy at work, while one-third said they did not and another third were unsure. A policy is critical, but it’s not the only factor.
“I think the piece of the puzzle that’s been hard to define is the culture. You can have a written policy, you can have a dedicated space and flexible time or reasonable time, as it says in the federal law, but if the culture of the workplace is not supportive, such as how your coworkers and supervisors respond, all of those things will make a mom question if she can do it. So she’s stressed when she takes a break to pump,” which also affects milk production, said Sirois.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about what businesses are doing because it’s not publicly or widely shared,” said Joyce Kelly, a member of the Breastfeeding Taskforce who helps consult employers that receive the lactation program grant. However, Kelly said she was pleased to see employers she worked with were focused on making rooms welcoming, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.
“They recognize it’s difficult to come back to work after a baby,” said Kelly. “[Some people] think you put your kid in day care and that’s it. I think they grasped that it’s hard. That’s progress for us as women and as a society — that people know it’s hard for women; it can be very difficult.”
“It’s not easy breastfeeding, said Jody Bugbee, vice president of human resources at Yankee Publishing Inc., parent company of McLean Communications.
With 40 years of experience in HR, Bugbee started her family while working in the banking industry.
“I know personally. My son’s turning 39 now — when I went back to work [after three months], I started bottles and formula because it was too hard to try to pump and there was nothing, no consideration at all back then.”
That was after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, Bugbee recalled. “When I started working, I worked with women who, when they were pregnant, they had to quit their jobs. If they were in banking, that was unseemly to work as teller if they were showing. By the time I was in HR, you had to enforce not discriminating against pregnant women, so I had a different experience that helped my growth, and when I had my kids, it was never a question I couldn’t do my job.”
A generation later, Bugbee sees further improvement for women, though quickly acknowledges motherhood and the transition to work is not easy.
“My daughter, she’s a nurse, her daughter is two, but she was able to pump. It’s not easy doing that. I have a high regard for moms who can do it, because you have to plan ahead, whether you’re leaving them at day care, and make sure you can still breastfeed when you get home,” Bugbee explained. “Anything companies can do to make it easier goes a long way. How much you value the person and you want them back — you kind of put your action where your words are.”
A community of support
As a grant recipient, Manchester Community College also had students in mind as potential users of its dedicated room.
“What’s amazing to me is the number of visitors to the college that use the space,” said Jeannie DiBella, senior human resources officer at Manchester Community College. Visitors often are brought in to the college through events held at the multipurpose room it rents out to the public.
“We have signage through out the building and fliers that flash on our TV monitors that talk about the space,” which is located in the president’s suite, said DiBella.
Users range from breastfeeding mothers to grandparents or an older adult that’s watching someone else’s child and needs the space to give them a bottle or diaper change.
“We see we have the need because we see pregnant women walking around, but it may be a challenge to get the word out to companies that might not think they have value to them, [however] think of it from the perspective of customers well. Depending on the business, they may want to offer it,” said DiBella.
AutoServ of Nissan in Tilton completed its grant-funded room a month ago, including a changing table and diaper genie. It advertises the space on posters near the restrooms, close to where the room is located.
“Because we’re a high-volume dealer, we have a café that brings in people from the local area that just like our café, so we have [a lot] of foot traffic. So we have that [room] as an additional amenity for people — it’s just a natural progression to what we’re doing anyway,” said Donna Gaudet Hosmer, an owner of AutoServ.
“It’s not simply to have a low barrier for women to have lactation support, which is simple. It’s about supporting women in their professions and their career, especially for me — I’m a female owner of a car dealership; we empower women to succeed,” said Gaudet Hosmer.
“I think every public building, regardless of female workers or not, should have this option for their guest,” said Heather Iworsky, branch manager, marketing and culture at ReVision Energy. “I was in Target yesterday with my kids, school-shopping, and they even have one. It boggles my mind we have all of these ADA requirements [accessible design standards for people with disabilities] with architecture and design and we don’t require this. So I use this room as that platform, to say it’s easy. If I can do this in our cramped office space and make this happen with our busy schedule, anybody can make this happen.”
Liisa Rajala can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.