For a More Productive Workplace, Welcome Breastfeeding Moms Back to Their Jobs

New mothers who can breastfeed at work return to their jobs sooner. The warm welcome they receive boosts morale and encourages loyalty.

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By Jennifer Jordan

Matthias Ritzmann | Getty Images

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Across every industry and in almost every position, women are an incredibly important part of the U.S. labor workforce, accounting for 47 percent of all workers. More notably, the fastest-growing segment of the workforce is women with children under the age of three.

Paying attention to this demographic -- one that spans blue collar jobs as well as 9-to-5 office jobs -- and the unique needs of breastfeeding moms in particular, is a necessity that, when done right, can provide both short-term and long-term benefits to mom, baby and the employer. This drives positive business results through healthier, happier and more motivated employees and work environments. Ultimately, these consequences often benefit the employer, as employee turnover and dissatisfaction with management and benefits can often negatively impact the bottom line.

Related: What Daughters Learn When Mom Is the Boss of the Family Business

Working mom's maternity and pumping rights.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that businesses with 50 or more employees must provide eligible mothers with at least 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave with no repercussions. This is a significant amount of time for mothers to heal and bond with their newborns, considering that it takes an average of six weeks to physically recover from giving birth.

When it comes to breast pumping at work, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires businesses to offer reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after giving birth. It also requires a private space other than a bathroom to express breast milk in, free from intrusion by coworkers and the public.

All businesses must comply with these breast pumping provisions unless those with fewer than 50 employees can demonstrate that doing so would impose undue hardships, making them exempt.

Employer benefits of supporting moms.

Employers of both hourly and salaried workers have begun to see a major ROI from simply supporting their employed mothers, saving on average $3 for every $1 invested in breastfeeding support. This statistic can be attributed to the fact that healthier babies require less time and health care expenses. One survey concluded that fewer workdays are missed with healthier babies. It also found that many mothers missed work due to their babies having one of 40 common illnesses, but only 25 percent of those same illnesses occurred in exclusively breastfed babies.

Related: Why Mothers Make Better Entrepreneurs

Infants who have never been breastfed average about $400 in prescription costs, but after CIGNA implemented its lactation program, the company experienced a 62 percent drop in prescriptions written for employees' infants.

Businesses also experience savings with a decreased turnover rate. Supporting moms by helping them to confidently maintain their breastfeeding goals eases the transition of returning to work. Family-friendly environments are welcoming and contribute to increased productivity, because employees are more likely to work harder when they feel valued and respected by their employer.

Savings generated by CIGNA's lower turnover rate may offset the cost of implementing and maintaining its breastfeeding program. It also benefited from $240,000 in annual savings in reduced healthcare costs for breastfeeding mothers and children.

Breastfeeding rights in the blue collar and service industries.

There is a common misconception that these benefits only apply to corporate environments, but there are many examples of high-value savings being created in blue-collar and service industries as well.

Home Depot took steps to remove obstacles for breastfeeding mothers by implementing its own program. As a result, one store experienced an average of $42,000 in annual savings with reduced absences and a higher rate of employee satisfaction.

Pizza Hut headquarters also benefitted from stronger employee support and appreciation after offering educational seminars to help new parents learn about breastfeeding. The company also contributed an electric breast pump for employees to use with their own attachments and flexible pumping schedules.

Dollar General is also providing support for mothers by offering an eight-week paid maternity leave to qualifying employees, effective April 1, 2018, as well as reasonable break periods for the purpose of expressing breast milk.

Related: Revealing the Dirty Little Startup Secret

A win-win for both mom and employer.

As businesses face a more competitive recruiting landscape, a family-centric and supportive approach represents a compelling hiring advantage for skilled job seekers, while simultaneously engaging and retaining existing employees. As most parents and business leaders will agree, not only is it good for both mom and employer, it's also a mother's right to have these benefits.

Jennifer Jordan

Director of Mom & Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare

Jennifer Jordan is the director of Mom & Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare, a durable medical equipment provider that has provided breast pumps through insurance to hundreds of thousands of women. Jordan and her team work directly with new and expecting moms to support their breastfeeding needs.

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