The first day after my maternity leave, I was simultaneously exhausted and excited to get back to work.  Over the last three months, I had not spent more than an hour away from my son at a time.  Therefore, I knew that a full eight-hour shift might present an emotional challenge.  Nevertheless, I was steeled with the knowledge that when I got off work, my son and I would share a few intimate and relaxing moments while he breastfed.  My plan was to maintain my milk supply by using my new Medella breast pump every two to four hours. This would also provide my baby with the nutritious breast milk that I was so glad to provide.  My perfectly laid plans began to unravel when I found that the office was short staffed.  It would be a challenge to find coverage for a lunch break, much less the forty minutes that I needed to express milk.  Finally, afraid that my breasts would mortify me by leaking little milk spots onto my shirt, I asked a co-worker to relieve me. Sixty seconds later, I found myself expressing breast milk in a dirty bathroom stall.  Dismayed by the thought that I was producing my baby’s dinner in the same place that my colleague was obviously re-experiencing last night’s Mexican food, I read over the volumes of bathroom graffiti. I began to think to myself that breastfeeding was clearly not worth the hassle. 

            My experience with breastfeeding in the workplace is fairly typical.  This is exemplified by a study, which appeared in Birth titled “ A Survey of Policies and Practices in Support of Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace”.   In this study, several large companies who considered themselves breastfeeding friendly were questioned about their policies.  The study found that many of these “breastfeeding friendly” companies were careful not to be too friendly.  Only fourteen percent of these companies actually allowed women to breastfeed their babies at work, and less than half provide a place to refrigerate expressed breast milk.

            Despite the reluctance of even self-proclaimed breastfeeding friendly companies to provide such simple amenities such as refrigeration, and breastfeeding rooms, doctors recognize that breastfeeding is highly beneficial.  Breastfeeding protects infants from a variety of diseases during the first few days of their lives.  An article published in April of 2008 by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition  revealed that human colostrum contained high levels of oligosaccharides (which protect the infant from infection) during the first few days after birth.  The researchers concluded milk produced by mothers is tailored to babies’ developmental needs.  As exemplified by the findings that mothers were producing oligosaccharides at the time when their babies are most vulnerable to infection.

            With all of the advantages linked with breastfeeding, it is difficult to imagine that a mother could be dissuaded simply by workplace difficulties.  However statistics show that work environment is the biggest obstacle that a women who wants to breastfeed faces.  As shown in Figure 1, a very large seventy-nine percent of women plan to breastfeed but only fifty-four percent of women are able to follow through with this after returning to work.  This would seem like a problem that female employees should be dealing with on their own time.  However in most cases, easing the difficulty of breastfeeding for working moms by providing facilities to pump, places to store milk, and time to pump can actually benefit employers.



            Some businesses have asserted that it is risky to enact breastfeeding friendly policies.  Some companies fear that allowing mothers to express milk and store it in the company refrigerator would expose other workers to infectious bodily fluids.  It is true that if a mother were HIV positive, and another worker ingested her Breast milk, her coworker would be at a risk for contracting HIV (Semaru). For this reason, companies should be mindful when designing breastfeeding friendly policies that breast milk does have the potential to transmit viruses when ingested. 

            Other places of employment worry that breastfeeding or pumping while at work will keep their employees off the job too many times a day. It must be conceded that the majority of breastfeeding moms will need forty minutes a day to pump and store milk.  Esther, a mother who worked and breastfed for six years, asserts that giving this time to mothers will increase their productivity.  Esther says, “even though I had to be away from work for forty extra minutes, I never fell behind.  I even completed more work to make up for it.” Companies may actually benefit from the increased productivity of mothers rather than lose out because of the extra break time.

            The most prevalent idea, which companies hold against providing accommodations for breastfeeding moms, is the idea that they should simply switch over to formula feeding.  However, formula feeding is not the best choice for a baby’s health.  Frightening headlines have been making their ways into newspapers, web pages, and blogs regarding chemicals that have been identified in baby formulas.  One such article authored by Frederic Frommer appeared on April nineteenth of 2008 titled “Watchdog: Organic Baby Formula uses Banned Ingredients”.  The ingredients Frommer questions here are DHA and ARA often advertised by formula manufactures as two ingredients found in natural breast milk.  Frommer asserts that these artificially manufactured ingredients are linked with newborn diarrhea and vomiting. 

            Diarrhea and vomiting are not the only problems currently being linked with infant formula.  On March twenty-seventh of 2008, an article appeared on a South African news website called SABC News titled “Infant Formula Poses no Risk: Nestle”.  SABC reports that recalls of Nestlies formula began last year, when higher than regulated amounts of iron, zinc, and copper were found in their formula.  SBAC reports that the Nestlie Company, which also manufactures baby formula in the United States, claimed that their formula had nothing to do with several ill infants, even after six needed hospitalization.  In light of these health scares, it is unsound for a company to assume that a mother who wishes to breastfeed will see formula as an acceptable alternative.

Additionally, employers feel concerned that mothers who choose not to breastfeed will feel pressured and may file lawsuits based on a hostile work environment.  Fortunately, the laws against hostile work environments do not cover something like a women feeling pressured to breastfeed by another woman.  Under the guidelines of the law, a “hostile work environment” occurs when speech or actions make a person feel uncomfortable based on race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, veteran status, marital status or personal appearance and must be “severe and pervasive” (Volokh).  When the pressure to breastfeed is applied to each of the above situations, it becomes clear that it is not classified as prosecutable activity in the eyes of the law.

Besides not being a legal danger to companies, there are many profit bringing benefits that go along with adding the simple amenities storage, and space for breast milk as well as the time to express milk. Breastfeeding could lead to higher employee satisfaction and performance.  The changes that are involved in allowing breastfeeding in the workplace can be seen a very progressive and transformational by employees.  A mother who is committed to breastfeeding will feel a warm sense of relief and surprise when she finds that her company has taken the initiative form positive breastfeeding policies.  Workplace transformations that benefit employees have been linked with employee commitment to the company and better achievement in the workplace (Podsakoff et al). 

            In addition to making employees feel more satisfied with their place of work, the public at large will be pleased with a company that supports breastfeeding.  Companies have been appealing to the public’s moral sensibilities to make a profit for a long time.  Some cosmetic companies like Bonne Bell advertise that they use no animal testing for their products ("Bonne Bell Company F.A.Q").  Other companies such as BP have advertised that their gasoline is more environmentally friendly than other gasolines ("Our Actions").  Many members of the public would be just as pleased to discover that at company has a woman and child friendly policies. A study preformed by R. Lee et al, which appeared in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that the majority of Americans liked the idea of breastfeeding women.  The same study also found Americans “believe that women who breastfeed need extra support both at work and in public.”  Employers who do not enact breastfeeding friendly policies are missing an opportunity to improve or elevate their public images.  While employers who do enact breastfeeding friendly policies stand to increase their prestige and thus their profits.

            Additionally, these changes will likely come at little cost to the company.  Many companies have an unused office that can be used as a pumping room.  Those companies who do not have extra space may find it easy to put a lock on the break room so that mothers may express milk in private.  Many companies already own the refrigerators necessary to store milk. However companies who do not own a refrigerator need not break the bank, as mini refrigerators can be found at Walmart for as little as forty dollars ("Results For Mini-refrigerators").

            The main area where companies will probably find additional costs is allowing break times for mothers to express milk.  These costs are offset by the increased productivity of workers and the profit increases from public satisfaction with the company.

Taking the simple steps of including accommodations for breastfeeding women is like taking out an insurance policy against poor work ethic and low profit.  Every company should develop plans to include a quiet place to express milk, and proper storage for breast milk, as well as ample break time to do so.  Breastfeeding mothers are an important component of the workforce, and its time progressive companies embrace them.


Works Cited

Asakuma, S, T Urashima, M Akahori, and H Obayashi. "Variation of Major Neutral

Oligosaccharides Levels in Human Colostrum." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 62 (2008). Proquest. Arapahoe Community College, Littleton. 29 Apr. 2008 <>. 

"Bonne Bell Company F.A.Q." Bonne Bell. Bonne Bell Cosmetics Company. 28 Apr. 2008 <>. 

"Breastfeeding Rates Drop for Working Moms." Women’s E-news. 29 Apr. 2008 <>. 

Frommer, Frederic. "Watchdog: Organic Baby Formula Uses Banned Ingredients." Associated Press. 18 Apr. 2008. 29 Apr. 2008 <>. 

"Infant Formula Poses No Risk: Nestle." SABC News. 27 Mar. 2008. SABC News. 24 Apr. 2008 <>. 

Moore, Jayne, and Nancy Jansa. "A Survey of Policies and Practices in Support of Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace." Birth. Abstract. Birth. 

“Our Actions." British Petroleum. British Petroleum Cooperation. 28 Apr. 2008 <>. 

Persad, Malini, and Janell Mensinger. "Maternal Breastfeeding Attitudes: Association with Breastfeeding Interest and Socio-Demographics Among Urban Primiparas." Journal of Community Health 33 (2008). Proquest. Arapahoe Community College, Littleton. 24 Apr. 2008 <>. 

Podsakoff, Phillip, Scott Mackenzie, and William Bommer. "Transformational Leader Behaviors and Substitutes for Leadership as Determinants of Employee Satisfaction, Commitment, Trust, and Organizational Citizenship Behaviors." Journal of Management 22 (1996). Sage Journals Online. 24 Apr. 2008 <>. 

"Results for Mini-Refrigerators." Walmart. Walmart Stores. 28 Apr. 2008 <>. 

 Semrau, Katherine, Mrinal Ghosh, Chipepo Kankasa, and Moses Sinkala. "Temporal and Lateral Dynamics of HIV Shedding and Elevated Sodium in Breast Milk Among HIV-Positive Mothers During the First Four Months of Breast-Feeding." Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 47 (2008). Proquest. Arapahoe Community College, Littleton. 24 Apr. 2008 <>. 

Villereal, Esther. Personal interview. 24 Apr. 2008. 

Volokh, Eugene. "What Speech Does 'Hostile Work Environment' Harassment Law Restrict?" UCLA. University of California Los Angeles. 24 Apr. 2008 <>. 

Add A Comment


Be the first to add a comment below.
Want to leave a comment and join the discussion?

Sign up for CafeMom!

Already a member? Click here to log in