The passage of the workplace breastfeeding support provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as healthcare reform) states that employers shall provide reasonable, unpaid break time and a private, non-bathroom place for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to one year after the child’s birth. Employers with less than 50 employees are not subject to the requirement if it would cause “undue hardship”
Returning to work is one of the major reasons for the avoidance or abandonment of breastfeeding. It is an important public issue: just as breastfeeding is beneficial for babies, so too is supporting breastfeeding beneficial for business. Research clearly demonstrates the value of breastfeeding for the health of women and children as well as an employer’s bottom line. Medical experts and Federal health agencies agree that exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months with continued breastfeeding for the first year of life and beyond sets the stage for optimal maternal and child health outcome. However, returning to work can be a major hurdle for new mothers struggling to balance working and breastfeeding without the simple support measures this law ensures in place.
Although many are aware of the health benefits of breastfeeding, employers may not recognize the economic benefits that accrue to them also. The Business Case for Breastfeeding, published in 2008 by the Department of Health and Human Services, demonstrates an impressive return investment for employers who provide workplace lactation support, which include lower health costs, reduced absenteeism, and lesser turnover rates. Employees whose companies provide breastfeeding support consistently report improved morale, better satisfaction with their jobs, and higher productivity.
It takes little for a company to provide lactation support. Basic needs include a clean place to express milk in privacy and break time to express milk approximately every 3 hours during the work period. A model law in Oregon defines reasonable time for milk expression as 30 minutes for every 4 hours worked. A growing number of companies across the U.S. offer worksite lactation programs that also include access to information and professional support from a lactation consultant or other health experts.
Currently, 24 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have legislation related to breastfeeding in the workplace. The new federal provision will provide a minimum level of support in all states, but it will not preempt a State law that provides stronger protections.
Although the law is effective immediately upon president Obama’s signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Labor must now work to define terms and enforcement procedures.
Employers, human resources managers, and breastfeeding employees who are interested in helping to establish worksite lactation programs at their place of employment can find more information from U.S. Breastfeeding Committee website, and to obtain The Business Case for Breastfeeding resources, visit The National Women’s Health Informational Center. (NL)