Typically, a discussion on whether employers should provide a dedicated area or room for mothers to express breast milk focuses on current or pending legislation. The Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to include a requirement that all employers provide a place other than a bathroom for an employee to express breast milk (although companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt). Last year, San Francisco became the first city to pass an ordinance that enforces higher standards, requiring employers to create a dedicated lactation room that is shielded from view and has access to a refrigerator and running water. A bill on Governor Brown’s desk would apply those requirements statewide, and other cities and states are considering similar legislation. What gets lost in the legislative debates over whether employers should be compelled to provide lactation rooms is that doing so can have an immediate and positive impact on their bottom lines.
Many employers simply do not realize that breastfeeding can save them money. The US Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) reports there are a number of business benefits to providing support to breastfeeding employees, including lowering healthcare costs, improving employee morale and loyalty, and strengthening brand reputations.
Babies who are not breastfed visit the physician more often, spend more days in the hospital, and require more prescriptions than breastfed infants. Breastfeeding employees miss work less often because breastfed infants are healthier, which translates directly to both reduced employee absenteeism and lower health insurance costs.
When new mothers feel their employers will provide them with a supportive environment for breastfeeding or pumping, they are more likely to return to work after childbirth. That keeps employee turnover lower, which reduces the high costs of recruiting, hiring and onboarding new temporary or full-time employees.
And speaking of recruiting, supporting breastfeeding employees creates a public image that generates positive publicity and gives a business a distinct competitive advantage when trying to attract top talent.
Don’t worry about falling productivity levels, the interruption to an employee’s workday to express breast milk is minimal. Most women who return to work are able to sustain their milk supply and avoid pressure and discomfort by simply expressing their milk every two to three hours for about 15 minutes per session. That’s likely less time than it takes for any employee’s quick trip to a nearby Starbucks, and after the baby is 6 months old and begins eating solid foods, the number of milk expression breaks starts to diminish.
When you consider the cost savings, lower employee turnover rate and good PR a business can generate by creating a dedicated lactation room, going above and beyond what the federal law requires just makes good business sense. The authors of the California bill (SB 937) that awaits Gov. Brown’s signature summarize the benefits to businesses and their employees perfectly:
“Family friendly workplaces increase gender equity, improve families’ health, and are good for business. Inadequate lactation accommodations often lead women and other nursing parents, especially low-income workers, to make the difficult decision to leave their jobs or to pay for expensive formula. Providing a safe and comfortable place for nursing parents to lactate will keep infants and nursing parents healthier, and keep more of them in the workforce.”