Going back to work after having a baby can be a challenge for new moms, especially those trying to continue breast-feeding.
Although federal law requires workplaces to provide a private place and reasonable break time for nursing mothers to express breast milk, many places are not in compliance – leaving women in the uncomfortable position of asking for the accommodation, says Shannon McKenney Shubert, project director for Michigan Breastfeeding Network.
“The way it’s enforced is an employee has to say that their employer is not in compliance,” she says. “That’s really tough for a woman to go up against her employer. Compliance in that direction is really difficult.”
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To help address that problem, the Michigan Breastfeeding Network recently launched a project funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that recognizes breast-feeding-friendly workplaces.
Created in 2016, the Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplace Awards accept applications on a rolling basis and honor workplaces with either bronze, silver or gold recognition.
“We do this award really to help employers understand the benefits to them and then also (so they can see) what other employers are doing,” McKenney Shubert says.
Bronze-level awards are given to any workplace that is in compliance with the law, meaning they provide a private pumping space and reasonable break time, as many times as needed, until the employee’s baby is 1 year old.
“It doesn’t have to be permanent,” she points out, and the network offers free door-hangers women can use to designate a pumping space. “These door-hangers are helpful for creating these lactation spaces wherever they’re most convenient.”
Silver-level awards are for workplaces that go beyond what’s required by law, typically by providing a permanent pumping room.
And finally, gold-level awards are given to companies that create a policy on pumping that’s communicated to all employees and re-communicated for each pregnancy.
While not required to receive an award, some workplaces have additional nursing-friendly features like designated breast milk coolers in the pumping room, flex time or the opportunity to work some hours from home.
“We’ve come across some really, really neat employment structures,” McKenney Shubert says.
Know the law
Women should know that all workplaces must comply with the law.
“One of the huge pieces of misinformation that’s out there about the law is a lot of people think that if an employer has fewer than 50 employees, they aren’t required to be in compliance of the law,” she says, but actually they would have to apply for an exemption. “Every employer, regardless of how many employees they have, is automatically opted into the law.”
Having the time and space to pump at work means women can extend breast-feeding, which has important health benefits for baby and mother.
“It directly impacts duration for breast-feeding,” McKenney Shubert says. “You’ll have many women who will breast-feed until they go back to work and that’s just not long enough, especially in our country where we don’t have paid maternity or paternity leave.”
The public health implications are “huge,” she says.
“Since we know that women in the U.S. are going to go back to work, we need to find ways to accommodate them while they’re working to protect their health, the health of their children and the business, because women are more likely to drop out of the workforce if there aren’t lactation accommodations.”
Here’s a look at the workplaces that have been recognized so far:
- Battle Creek Community Foundation (Battle Creek)
- District Health Department No. 2 (multiple locations)
- Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital (Wyandotte)
- Michigan Fitness Foundation (Lansing)
- St. John River District Hospital (East China)
- St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital (Pontiac)
- Anton Art Center (Mount Clemens)
- Aon Risk Solutions (Grand Rapids)
- Calhoun County Health Department (Battle Creek)
- Community Action Agency of Lenawee County (Adrian)
- Community Mental Health of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham Counties (Okemos)
- Kapnick Insurance Group (Adrian, Ann Arbor, Troy)
- Michigan Public Health Institute (Okemos)
- Covenant Hospital (Saginaw)
- District Health Department No. 10 (Cadillac)
- Eaton County (Charlotte)
- Michigan State University (East Lansing)
- Michigan Peer Review Organization (Farmington Hills)
- Macomb County WIC (Mount Clemens)
- Western Wayne Family Health Center (multiple locations)
- The National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (Ann Arbor)
- St. Clair County Health Department (Port Huron)
- PFC Natural Grocery & Deli (Kalamazoo)
For more information or to encourage your workplace to apply, visit mibreastfeeding.org/work-place.