No one reading this blog will be surprised to learn that moms make up the fastest-growing segment of the labor force. While many working moms are in traditional fields of education and healthcare, more and more women are finding employment on construction sites, in the military, and in other physically demanding careers. Among these working women, 6 in 10 are new mothers who are just getting the hang of breastfeeding.
What challenges do nursing moms in physically demanding jobs experience?
In 2021, breastfeeding Olympic athletes made the news because they were banned from bringing their nursing children with them. U.S. marathon runner Aliphine Tuliamuk and soccer player Alex Morgan petitioned the Tokyo Olympic committee to ease the ban, but the response of the Olympic Committee did little to improve the situation. Children were forced to stay outside the Olympic Village in strict quarantine in hotel rooms. Given the conditions, many of the breastfeeding athletes chose to leave their infants at home, a decision that has the potential to disrupt their nursing relationship in the long run.
While these harsh limitations were imposed because of COVID, it’s a stark reminder of how nursing mothers and their infants are often an afterthought in employee policymaking, in particular in more physically demanding professions. Moms face numerous challenges when they’re attempting to return to work while nursing, including:
- Finding time to take pumping breaks during long shifts,
- Lack of an appropriate private space for pumping breaks,
- Lack of support from employers and colleagues.
How do these challenges impact breastfeeding?
Obviously, limited time and space creates a barrier to breastfeeding and pumping. However, even when businesses and institutions like the military provide the time and space required by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision of the ACA in 2010, they often neglect to actually create a support system, which proves to be even more important to mothers and babies.
Nursing mothers who feel unsupported in the workplace are also more likely to lack confidence in breastfeeding, and that takes a serious toll on how long they are willing to nurse. In fact, support, in general, plays an outsized role in how long women continue breastfeeding and pumping. According to the CDC, unsupportive work policies, lack of family support, and unsupportive hospital practices and policies are all obstacles for nursing moms to overcome.
How does supporting breastfeeding moms impact the workplace?
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources released their Business Case for Breastfeeding. In this study, they found that investing in lactation support services in the workplace produces a return of three dollars for every one dollar invested in breastfeeding support. When military moms and other hardworking mothers feel supported, the study found improvements in the following areas:
- greater employee retention,
- increased productivity,
- lower healthcare costs,
- increased employee engagement, and
- and lower employee absenteeism rates.
How can I support breastfeeding moms in demanding jobs?
Support legislation that supports breastfeeding moms.
Stay abreast (pun intended) of federal and state laws that impact breastfeeding moms, including those who are working. If your state has room for improvement, call your legislators and demand it. You can find specific laws related to breastfeeding here.
If you are a business or organization, become an advocate for nursing moms.
Businesses that provide real, meaningful support for breastfeeding and pumping mothers will have a stellar employee for life. Mothers who feel seen and supported will have an enormous positive influence of company culture, and you will have an enormous positive influence on a healthier, happier community.
Get creative with implementing effective strategies for supporting nursing moms.
Clinical studies have found a number of strategies that enhance breastfeeding among working women, including:
- early postpartum support,
- maternity leave policies,
- flexible working hours,
- access to space and time to extract milk,
- support from colleagues and supervisors, and
- the existence of explicit policies to support breastfeeding working mothers.
It’s Time To Start Supporting Breastfeeding Moms
Filling physically demanding jobs is already a challenge for many employees. Making positions more attractive to nursing mothers has the potential to attract and retain valuable new employees. If you’re a mom trying to balance work with nursing, the working moms at Milk N Mamas Baby are on your side. Never hesitate to reach out to us if you need a little extra support and encouragement.