Women Continue to Face Breastfeeding Barriers at Work, One Study Says

Recent data finds that while many breastfeeding mothers are able to get the means they need, there are still gaps in quality and accessibility of breastfeeding resources.

A recent study from the University of Georgia shows that despite legal protections to support breastfeeding employees, working mothers still feel the need to self-advocate for the resources they need. The study was published in Workplace Health & Safety.

The existence of a law does not mean there are not unaddressed gaps. One study highlights how many working mothers face a gap in the quality and accessibility of breastfeeding resources at work despite the breastfeeding laws in place.

“We know that there are benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the infant, and we know that returning to work is a significant challenge for breastfeeding continuation,” said Rachel McCardel, a doctoral student at UGA's College of Public Health and lead study author.

McCardel and her co-author’s goal for the study was to better understand breastfeeding support in the workplace since federal guidelines took effect over a decade ago that required employers to provide unpaid break time and a space other than a restroom for employees to breastfeed.

While this law surely helps protect working mothers, it does not address all their workplace needs. McCardel’s team asked participants of the study questions about their access to breastfeeding resources such as private rooms, breast pumps and lactation consultants. The respondents were also asked about their experiences with combining breastfeeding and work.

Researchers found that most respondents—about 80 percent—had a private space at work to express milk, and around two-thirds of the women reported having break times to breastfeed. Access to other resources like lactation consultants or breast pumps was less common.

While many women are receiving some breastfeeding resources, not all are—and those that are might still deserve more resources they are not receiving.

Furthermore, many respondents expressed that they had not expected to get much help from employers on nursing assets, and that there was a general lack of communication about the resources available to them.

One assistant professor at the College of Public Health, Heather Padilla, has a small fix for employers to implement.

“Designate a person who is responsible for making sure that women who are preparing for the birth of their baby understand what resources they have available to them when they return to work,” Padilla said. This could be a supervisor, an HR director or a mentor, she added.

McCardel reminds people that part of caring for and supporting employees extends to breastfeeding, working mothers. However, this idea is not being fully implemented:

“According to the most recent Workplace Health in America Survey, we're now seeing about 46 percent of worksites are offering some sort of health promotion programming, but only 8 percent offer lactation resources,” she said. “I feel like that's a missed opportunity because it's a crucial part of work-life balance, especially for new mothers.”

In this day in age, many female employees are also mothers of young children. While some federal laws protect breastfeeding workers, employers’ work is still not done. Make sure your breastfeeding workers are seeing their needs addressed.

You can get a summary of breastfeeding laws from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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