This blog post discusses breastfeeding.
If reading that sentence at work made you squirm in your chair a little, that’s okay—and this post is especially for you! Because the first step to improving workplace support for birthing employees is to normalize for HR leaders what that support looks like beyond parental leave. And for many birthing people, a big way to support them beyond postpartum time off is to lower or eliminate the obstacles the workplace presents for those who opt to breastfeed.
The first week in August annually marks World Breastfeeding Week, supported jointly by WHO and UNICEF. This year’s theme focuses on breastfeeding and work, giving HR leaders a strategic opportunity to advocate for workplace programs and benefits that support breastfeeding. According to the organizations, more than half a billion (yes, billion with a b) employees are not given essential protections in national laws, and 80% of countries do not require employers to provide employees with paid time and appropriate space for breastfeeding or expressing milk.
Spoiler alert: The United States falls into both of those categories.
That means that providing support for birthing and lactating employees falls on individual business/HR leaders to create policies when legislation falls short. Mineral Experts have outlined five ways that small businesses can do just that:
1. Ensure access to a private, comfortable, and relaxing lactation space. In other words, not a reconfigured storage closet. But no need to go full Chip and Joanna. There’s plenty of happy medium and shades of gray (so some other gender-neutral color). Envision a space that would help you relax—furniture, décor, etc.—then do that.
2. Provide a mini fridge to store milk near the lactation space. Breast milk is food (not a biohazard) and must be refrigerated. If you can’t provide a separate fridge that is convenient for lactating employees, they must be allowed to use a communal fridge for storage.
3. Provide a hospital-grade electric pump at work. Although federal law requires insurance companies to provide or cover the cost of a pump, there’s no mandate on pump quality or type of pump. It could be manual or electric, single or double (Pro tip: Double electric pumps are generally the most efficient.).
4. Allow employees to nurse their baby directly. This is especially helpful for employees working remotely, or onsite employees that have someone brings the baby to the employee during breaks or if the baby’s day care is nearby.
5. Pay for break time that you’re not otherwise required to pay. Employers can generally expect an employee to need two or three lactation breaks in an eight-hour workday and for each break to last around 30 minutes. Expressing milk usually takes 15 to 20 minutes, but additional time is needed to set up the pump before and clean the pump attachments after. The frequency and duration of lactation breaks will vary depending on the employee and can change over time.
Aside from being the right thing to do, supporting lactating employees brings benefits for employers as well—including decreased healthcare costs (due to the health benefits of breast milk), employee absenteeism, and turnover, plus increased employee morale and productivity. The ultimate reward is less squirming and squeamishness but more support all around.
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