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Breastfeeding and the Workplace

Breastfeeding and the Workplace

“Pumping Up with Hans and Franz” was a much-loved sketch with Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon that debuted on Saturday Night Live in 1987. The duo often insisted, “We’re not here to talk, we’re here to pump … you up!” Pumping was what these characters did at work.

Unfortunately, for breastfeeding moms, pumping at work isn’t that easy. Though federal law says employers must supply moms with time and space to pump breastmilk, most women don’t continue breastfeeding after they return to work. On average, women breastfeed for around 12 weeks, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies nurse for six months and combine it with solid food for another six.

A study from the University of Houston found that out of 859 working women with newborns, only seven managed to breastfeed exclusively for six months, while around 300 continued some breastfeeding for 12 months. That diminishes the health advantages of breastfeeding: mutual bonding; stronger resistance to infections, less allergies and obesity for baby; and lower risk of ovarian and breast cancer for mom.

Why, despite the law, does this happen? Women often feel employers and coworkers think pumping on the job means a woman isn’t handling her workload as required. So, as Hans and Franz say, “Hear me now and believe me later”: Companies need to help supervisors and staff understand that supporting pumping and breastfeeding helps retain good employees, lowers healthcare costs and absenteeism. New moms need to talk with their HR department to help them gain support and understanding.

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