Returning to work while continuing to breastfeed is a challenge for many new mums — especially considering the horror stories we hear about inadequate lactation rooms and employers that resist providing the breaks needed to pump, as required by law.
But a select few employers are taking another approach and championing an unusual perk that could make the burden of pumping at work much easier for people who need it.
Going on a business trip that takes you thousands of miles away from your family makes the task of providing fresh breast milk for a new child exponentially more difficult for breastfeeding mums.
As Twitter’s VP of diversity and inclusion, Janet Van Huysse, explained to Business Insider, difficulties for travelling new mums include having to leave a new baby at home, figuring out how to continue pumping between meetings, and having to deal with the logistics of going through TSA checkpoints with breastmilk or figuring out how to ship breastmilk home.
Twitter hopes to ease the transition back to work by offering free breastmilk delivery for nursing mothers on business trips through FedEx’s cold shipping program.
Van Huysse says the company first announced the perk as a pilot program to 1,500 salespeople during its annual global sales conference at headquarters in July. Nine mothers signed up at the conference for the service, and the idea was so well-received — some mothers called it “game-changing,” Van Huysse says — Twitter now offers the service to all its global employees.
“It wasn’t one of those benefits where we were looking at what kind of reach it would have,” she says. “It was more about impact.”
“It really hits at a time when women are thinking about the tradeoffs they’re making with their career and family, and so anything that our industry or other industries can do to make women stay in the workforce and support the choices they’re making I think is a good thing,” Van Huysse says. She says that the program is such a no brainer she can’t believe more companies aren’t offering it yet.
Tax and professional services firm EY led the charge back in 2007, when it started providing a breast milk shipping benefit with Limerick, their lactation consultants. EY provides mums with a travel kit that includes an insulated cooler with ice packs, baby bottles to store the breast milk, and a shipping box that the cooler fits snugly into, and the firm pays to have the breast milk express-shipped home, Maryella Gockel, EY Americas flexibility strategy leader, tells Business Insider.
According to Limerick’s data, EY will have provided 600 breast milk travel kits to 100 mums in the US this year. EY also provides a hospital-grade breast pump to each new mother at the firm and assigns a case manager, who is a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant (CLC), to consult with before returning to work.
“As part of EY’s flexible and inclusive culture, we are committed to providing our women with the tools and resources they need to be highly effective in their careers, while at the same time helping them meet their personal goals,” Gockel says. “New mums who continue to nurse are faced with their share of challenges returning to work. Offering a workplace lactation program, including breast milk shipping for mums, can alleviate some of the stress of returning to work after childbirth.”
“We implemented free breastmilk shipping after one of our employees, who was travelling for work, had trouble getting through airport security with the milk she had pumped during her trip,” Katie Curnutte, Zillow Group’s vice president of communications and public affairs tells Business Insider. “Coming back to work as a new parent is challenging enough, and we wanted to do everything possible to support our employees and their families, and take away some of that stress.”
Sadly, these programs are a stark contrast to the conditions some breastfeeding mums have reported facing upon their return to work at other companies.
According to the Affordable Care Act passed in March 2010, an employer with 50 or more employees must provide reasonable break time for an employee to provide breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time she needs to, and break time need not be compensated. Also, the employer must provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to breastfeed.
This isn’t always the case.
Katrina Alcorn, a Web consultant in Oakland, California, told Bloomberg her company didn’t have a lactation room, so she sat in a toilet stall to pump and stored her breast milk in the office fridge. “Once, a co-worker sent an email to the entire 40-person office complaining about the ‘bodily fluids’ in the refrigerator,” she says. “It was tempting to give up breast feeding altogether.”
Natasha Long, who worked at a factory in Booneville, Mississippi, was back to work three weeks after having her third child, Jayden, in 2012. As she told investigative journalist Sharon Lerner, her factory didn’t have a lactation room, so she would run to her truck during breaks to pump breast milk. “She sat in the cab, worried that someone might see her, and pumped, while tears rolled down her face and over the plastic suction cups attached to her breasts,” Lerner wrote of Long’s experience.
And last year, the Huffington Post’s Dave Jamieson investigated 105 cases filed with the US Labour Department as part of a Freedom of Information Act request for investigations into nursing-mother complaints. Only closed cases between March 2010 and late 2013 were reviewed.
As Jamieson reported, The Labour Department’s cases shared some clear patterns: many women were forced to pump in the bathroom at work, customers or colleagues often walked in on women relegated to common areas when their breasts were exposed, raising an issue often created tension with supervisors, women said they weren’t allowed enough time to pump, and when they were allowed to take a break, it was only when they weren’t busy.
Gina Ciagne, a certified lactation counselor and global vice president of healthcare relations at Lansinoh, says that a lot of this oversight isn’t necessarily intentional, and employers often aren’t aware of a breastfeeding mother’s need to pump privately and consistently until it’s an issue. Consequently, the burden often falls to mothers to figure it out. “That’s just not fair,” she says.
“Can you imagine hiring someone and saying, ‘Yea, OK, you’re going to have a family? Great. You’re actually going to have to go eat in the bathroom. That’s where we eat our lunch.’ That’s literally what it’s like, because she’s preparing her baby’s food,” Ciagne says.
According to Ciagne, babies typically feed every two to three hours, and so a mother needs to pump accordingly. It takes up to a half-hour each time a woman pumps, she says. Breastfeeding, she explains, is a supply-and-demand operation; the body needs regular stimulation to keep up with the needed output, and when a mother misses a feeding, her body receives the message that it can produce less milk.
“It’s a labour of love, with more focus on the labour part,” she jokes.
Both mothers and children benefit from breast milk, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Breast milk contains antibodies that protect infants from bacteria and viruses, which results in fewer ear, respiratory, urinary tract infections, and, not surprisingly, fewer health care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations.
Breastfeeding also helps mothers return to pre-pregnancy weight earlier and reduces the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, about 77% of mothers start breastfeeding immediately after birth, but only about 16% of those mums are breastfeeding exclusively six months later. A woman’s return to work overwhelmingly plays a role in this decrease.
“Mum needs to figure out how to pump, she needs to figure out her schedule, she and her partner need to figure out the childcare, and all of that stuff is individually a little overwhelming, but when you put it all together it really will challenge your reality and make you realise that you have a lot to juggle and figure out,” Ciagne says.
“Breastfeeding mums have that additional layer of learning how to pump, pumping, leaving enough of that milk behind, and reconnecting with that baby when they get back from work,” she says.
Ciagne says it’s about time employers caught up and really understood that valuing families and supporting women has societal, health, and economic benefits. Stepping up the benefits and figuring out the logistics to make life easier for new mums just makes sense, she says.
“I think it’s amazing that some companies are understanding that, finally,” she says.
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