CDC launches new worksite initiative

Recognizing that breastfeeding duration is often linked to the length of maternity leave, the Centers for Disease Control has launched the Lactation Support Program as part of its Healthier Worksite Initiative. The CDC notes that about 70% of women with children under the age of 3 work full-time, and a Lactation Support Program is important to support these employees. A complete toolkit is available on its website.

Numerous studies note that employers benefit when they give their breastfeeding employees space and time to pump their milk or feed their babies nearby. Cohen, Mrtek, and Mrtek (1995) found that formula feeding moms have three times as many one-day absences from work to care for sick children in the first year of life than do breastfeeding moms. Ball and Wright (1999) estimated that, for every 1000 formula feeding babies, their mothers would miss a total of one full year of employment in excess of breastfeeding mothers, because their children are sick so much more often.

In addition to lower rates of absenteeism, the CDC notes that employers also will have lower health care costs, improved staff productivity and loyalty, lower employee turnover. In addition mothers will have longer breastfeeding duration and so can better meet recommended medical guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue for at least 1-2 years thereafter.

Lactation support can save employers money. Aetna found a $2.8 return for every $1 invested to support lactation, according to Dr. Audrey Naylor, in a September letter in the New York Times.

Some mothers may blame themselves for having to wean their babies when they return to work. The problem, however, is not with mothers themselves, but with a culture that does not support breastfeeding, and does not provide worksite lactation support. Unless a state has legislation protecting lactation in the workplace, mothers must advocate for support from their employers.

Oftentimes, the employer simply does not realize there is a need to support lactating employees, and usually does not realize that it is in their best interest to do so. The CDC also notes that it is important that an employer create a policy for its lactating employees, and not just a room, so that support can continue successfully. CDC notes that everyone wins when employers support their lactating employees.