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Breastfeeding helps both employers and families

Breastfeeding is more than just a lifestyle choice; it is an important health choice for both babies and mothers. However, since the majority of mothers in Bermuda return to work after 12 weeks, employment can be an obstacle to breastfeeding. Mothers need to know they can continue nursing even after they return to work.

All the reasons a mother chose to breastfeed are still important when she returns to work, and some are even more important. Babies in day care are exposed to germs from numerous families and have a significantly higher risk of infections and illnesses. The antibodies in a mother’s milk help her baby fight those germs and recover quickly if he does fall sick.

However, many mothers find that what matters most is not the health benefits, but the continuing connection that breastfeeding provides. Knowing that her baby is drinking her milk while separated can provide a mother with much comfort. And, breastfeeding at the end of work day provides both mother and child with security and reconnection.

Employers need to know that not much space and time is required to assist a breastfeeding mother. Having a clean, quiet and private room (even as small as 4’ by 5’) for expressing milk can make a huge difference for employed mothers. Most mothers can sustain their milk supply and prevent uncomfortable engorgement by expressing approximately every three hours for 15-20 minutes each session. Breast milk can be refrigerated or stored in a personal cooler. As the baby grows older and begins to eat solids, the number of pumping sessions will diminish.

Providing support is a temporary need for each breastfeeding employee. Mothers who experience a positive, accepting attitude from supervisors and co-workers are much more likely to successfully combine breastfeeding and employment.

Supporting mothers who breastfeed also benefits employers. The payoff can be significant: more satisfied loyal employees and cost savings to the employer. Savings can occur in areas such as employee retention, lower health care costs and insurance premiums and fewer days of absenteeism. Research shows absences to care for sick children occur more than twice as often for mothers of formula-fed infants than for mothers of breastfed infants.

As an example, CIGNA Corporation, a US-based insurance company, implemented a programme to eliminate workplace barriers that keep women from choosing to breastfeed and continuing to breastfeed after returning to work.

The programme resulted in an annual savings of $240,000 in healthcare expenses for breastfeeding mothers and their children; 77 percent reduction in lost work time due to infant illness, with an annual savings of $60,000; lower pharmacy costs due to a 62 percent reduction in prescriptions; and breastfeeding rates for mothers in their program of 72.5 percent at six months.

Breastfeeding can work for working mothers. “Family-friendly” workplaces play an important role in supporting women who choose to breastfeed and provide their child with the healthiest start in life.

A mother who plans to combine breastfeeding and working would greatly benefit from attending La Leche League meetings. Breastfeeding mothers who are separated from their babies regularly need the support that comes from being with other nursing mothers. When mothers are connected with others who understand, respect and support their career and parenting decisions, mothers may be surprised at what they can accomplish with their babies.

Photo by Glenn Tucker Nurse Katrina Hicks and her baby Hannah along with Nurse Holly Gillam and her baby, Anya. The two nurses are part of a growing movement of women who breastfeed or pump during the working day.

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Published November 25, 2011 at 9:55 am (Updated November 25, 2011 at 9:55 am)

Breastfeeding helps both employers and families

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