Breastfeeding can be challenging for moms, even those of us who want to breastfeed. This can happen for a variety of reasons: low milk supply, trouble latching, babies with a tongue tie, and factors like not being able to pump at work.
The theme for this year's world breastfeeding week, According to Women's Health Action, is:
“Enabling breastfeeding: making a difference for working parents.”
The reasons that many women don't breastfeed, or stop early, have to do with lack of access at work. In the US, women have to go back to work 6-weeks post partum. Other places it is even earlier. This means, women face challenges of needing to pump at work.
When I went back to work after the birth of my oldest, I tried to pump at work, but I didn't have a dedicated pumping area, and had to go into a storage closet. I also didn't have regular breaks at which to pump. It didn't last long, and I ended up having to supplement with formula.
With my second, at least we had a pumping room at work. However, it was still challenging to get away with my meeting schedule. And, the room was being used by several different women, and we couldn't always get in when we needed to. Additionally, some people who weren't nursing moms would use the room to either eat lunch or make phone calls, making it inaccessible. One of the moms that I worked with ended up leaving the job because of all of the difficulties using the pumping room.
This isn't uncommon. According to Women's Health Action,
Workplace challenges remain the most common reason for women to never breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding earlier than recommended.
Parents need adequate time and support to breastfeed. Parents with less than 3 months of maternity leave reported shorter breastfeeding duration than those with 3 or more months of leave.
A workplace needs adequate breastfeeding facilities to become a breastfeeding-friendly workplace. Only 42 countries mandate workplace breastfeeding facilities.
Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding addresses inequalities that stand in the way of sustainable development (source: WABA, 2023).
In 2023 we should be doing better for moms and babies. Some things that could be done are expanding post-natal leave so that moms have more time off of work, providing more dedicated space and time to pump, and allowing scheduled breaks.
Many places don't have a room that nursing moms can use to pump, so we end up pumping in storage closets or bathrooms. This can be a deterrent to continuing to pump while at work.
If we can create more access for moms to be able to pump at work, then I believe that many women would do so for a longer amount of time. It is due to inconvenience that many of us stop.
It is also important for supervisors to be understanding and allow women to take breaks. Although the law requires it in some places, it still isn't happening in all cases. Women struggle with the need to please their supervisors and do well in their jobs, and balancing their baby's care.
According to the National Institute of Health,
Women in specific service-oriented industries (i.e., accommodation and retail) reported the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and workplace supports for breastfeeding and pumping. Further, how a woman hoped to feed and having a private pumping space at work were significantly associated with industry, breastfeeding initiation, and breastfeeding duration. A substantial portion of women reported being not sure about their workplace environment, policies, and culture related to breastfeeding.
Even in 2023, some industries don't provide employees with the regular breaks that are required by law. People are hesitant to bring it up, because they really need their jobs. We need to work to ensure that everyone, especially nursing mothers, has access to the break time that is required by law.
According to Nolo,
Only a handful of states currently require employers to allow employees to take rest breaks throughout the work day. Most of these states provide that employees can take a ten-minute rest break, with pay, for every four hours worked.
A few states allow employers to choose between giving a meal break or rest breaks, or require only that employers provide employees with enough break time to use the restroom.
We need to ensure that there are policies nationwide that allow employees to take rest breaks throughout the day. This would ensure that people aren't being overworked and taken advantage of by their employers. It would also allow working mothers to have time away to be able to pump.
Employees need to be treated more fairly. This is a huge issue that impacts working mothers, and causes many to stop breastfeeding sooner than they want to. We need a national law that gives all workers access to rest breaks throughout the day, so they don't end up working an 8-hour shift without a break.
For more information about breastfeeding, including how to start, you can check out my article from last year.