The national dialogue is now centered around the future economic health of our country and the policies we will pursue to ensure growth. As this dialogue continues, it would be good to recognize the many ways communities and employers are already supporting the economic security and well-being of vulnerable groups -- and how they can be encouraged and supported in these activities. One such vulnerable group is working mothers -- especially those in hourly, lower-wage positions with young children and infants.
The challenges faced at work by nursing mothers in hourly positions are very real. For example, 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. While this new federal 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.
In fact, although we now have a federal workplace lactation provision on the books, only 28 percent of businesses have lactation programs. And, according to a survey conducted for Corporate Voices by Public Policy Polling, with generous support from Workplace Options, 57 percent of people are not aware of the new federal workplace lactation law.
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. Through improved recruitment, retention, productivity and lower health care costs, supporting nursing mothers at work makes good business sense. Employers that recognize the business benefits of breastfeeding play a critical role in promoting economic self-sufficiency among lower-wage working families.
But along with recognizing the benefits of breastfeeding, employers need resources and tools to implement successful lactation programs, which is why Corporate Voices for Working Families has released an updated version of its workplace lactation toolkit.
Indeed, Corporate Voices for Working Families has produced a free, high-quality and up-to-date online workplace lactation toolkit for employers to help them comply with the new law and establish lactation programs to support their nursing mothers. Titled "Healthy Babies Make Happy Moms and Excellent Employees," the toolkit includes:
By making these tools and resources available, and by highlighting what works across industries, Corporate Voices aims to close the gap in lactation support, help working families and help businesses become more competitive in the 21st century.