Breastfeeding at Work, or Somebody Feed That Baby!

Flexible programs don't do a lot of good unless people actually use them.
09/17/2012 11:13 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2012

I read's June 2012 "Quick Takes" report on flexible and family-friendly workplace programs, eager to learn what employers are doing to keep their teams focused and happy. I was glad to see that 91% of employers provide flexible work arrangements to help people manage around family situations. On the minus side, only 15% of women and 20% of men felt that they could use flexible arrangements without damaging their careers.

Ouch! Flexible programs don't do a lot of good unless people actually use them.

A footnote in the same report shares this startling fact: Only 28% of responding employers report that they've got a lactation room for use by nursing moms.

How's that again? You've got a family-friendly environment, but no place to pump milk for a baby?

Nothing spells "family friendly," it seems to me, more falsely than the message "Have a baby if you like, but don't expect to pump milk for the kid here at work." If a nursing mom doesn't pump milk when she's away from her baby, the milk will dry up. She'll have to switch to baby formula, even though the American Association of Pediatrics recommends that mothers feed their babies breast milk exclusively for the first six months.

In the AAP's "Business Case for Breastfeeding" report, they state that for every $1 an employer spends supporting lactation among its employees, the employer will get a $2 to $3 return. That's a good deal. Breast milk is good for babies. So whence the dismal 28% lactation room stat?

A lactation room is any small room with a table and chair in it. A lactation room is nothing fancier than a private space where a mom can pump breast milk for her infant. It'll cost the typical business a few hundred dollars to outfit a lactation room with a table, a comfy chair for mom, and if they really want to go all out, a small fridge where Mom can store the milk.

How can American employers justify not installing a lactation room in every one of their locations? How can an employer call itself "Family Friendly" without taking that one, tiny step?

For a lot of businesses, mother's milk is still too sticky a topic for the workplace (couldn't resist). One nursing mom told me, "My boss was fine with me nursing until he saw a bottle of my milk in the fridge. He was freaked out and posted a memo addressed to everyone but directed toward me, letting us know that no bodily fluids could be stored in the fridge." No bodily fluids from humans, the CEO should have specified -- bodily fluids from unknown, no-telling-how-unhealthy cows are apparently just fine.

We can't say that we support families in the workplace until we make it easy for a mom to pump milk as long as she and her baby want to. It takes a mom a few minutes twice a day or so to pump the milk her child needs when she isn't there to feed him. A supportive employer could get behind workplace lactation instead of ignoring its existence (28% -- dang!). Here's a memo from a fictional CEO to illustrate what a nursing-friendly culture would look like:

Dear [insert new mom name here],

Let me join with your friends and family members in congratulating you on the arrival of your new baby. All of us at Acme Explosives are thrilled for you and your family as you welcome your new little one. I'm happy you're planning to return to work, and I want you to know it's our goal to make your transition back as smooth as it can be. If you're planning to nurse your baby, here's the scoop on pumping milk for him or her once you're back on the job.

Every Acme Explosives location has a lactation room outfitted with a rocking chair, recliner and straight-backed chairs, an electric breast pump, a sink and a fridge for storing milk. There are labels and Sharpies in the lactation room you can use to label your milk, and blue ice packages to pack with the milk when you're going home.

Jan Smith in HR is our lactation support person who can book time in the lactation room for you. (Jan is also an ace lactation consultant and mom who'll answer your questions about nursing and pumping with pleasure. Be ready to show Jan your baby pictures). We don't ever want your job at Acme Explosives to get in the way of your nursing or pumping.

We have a new mom's discussion group on our internal server, and Jan can fill you in on that, too. Your manager has already been to our Managers Lactation Support training and will have ideas for making your work-and-pumping routine less crazy. We couldn't be happier that you're on our team, or more pleased to celebrate with you on the growth of your wonderful family. Please let me know how we can do a better job supporting your professional growth, your personal goals and your journey as a parent.

One more thing: I wouldn't mind seeing a baby picture, myself.

Chuck Jones
CEO, Acme Explosives