a woman holds her baby in a boba wrap

Breastfeeding and Working Mothers

By: Starla Hairston Blanks, MBA, MPH, Director of Community Voices in the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine, Course Director Health Policy and Advocacy Rotation and Andrea Serano, CLC, IBCLC, Program Director at Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere

The U.S. Department of Labor reported in April 2018 that 65.1% of all mothers with a child under the age of six participated in the labor force.[1] As working mothers are a major driving force into today’s economy, the ability of new mothers to successfully balance work and family is critical to the health status of children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that for “nearly all infants, breastfeeding is the best source of infant nutrition and immunologic protection”.[2] While the Center of Disease Control and Prevention reports that “60% of mothers do not breastfeed for as long as they intend to” and name “unsupportive work policies and lack of parental leave as a factor”.[3] To support the ability of working mothers to breastfeed while working, several key action steps were developed by Former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher in 2001 and were then updated by U.S. Surgeon General and Morehouse School of Medicine Alumni, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin in 2011. These action steps can be found in the report entitled “A Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding”[4].

Key steps to support breastfeeding in working mothers includes:

  • Find Space for Nursing Moms—Mothers need a space to express milk which includes privacy and access to an electrical outlet. Many businesses that employ a large number of female employees ages 18–45 have found that permanent space dedicated as a milk expression room is the most cost-effective and efficient option. [5]
  • Find Time For Working Moms—The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that employers provide reasonable break time for employees to express their milk during the work period. Women typically express their milk every 2 to 3 hours, or around 2–3 times per 8-hour work period. Women who work 12-hour shifts may need to express 3–4 times to maintain their milk production.[6] 
  • Find Innovative Solutions for Moms—The Office on Women’s Health provides Industry Solutions for Supporting Nursing Moms at Work in various workplace settings ranging from agriculture to retail. These solutions identify ways employers could implement accommodations that support the Break Time provisions.

Support from healthcare practitioners such as physicians is also critical to successful breastfeeding in working mothers. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute (SHLI) at Morehouse School of Medicine promotes the training of physicians on the role medical providers play in supporting the breastfeeding action plan of working mothers. This is done through training pediatrics, OB/GYN and family medicine physicians and residents on breastfeeding basics and support.

Training physicians, encouraging businesses to dedicate space and supporting time for working mothers to express milk are a few examples of how the business and medical community can support breastfeeding in working mothers. 

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2018. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm

[2] American Academy of Pediatrics. 2018. https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/breastfeeding/calltoactiontosupportbreastfeeding.pdf

[3] Center of Disease Control and Prevention. 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/facts.html

[4] U.S. Surgeon General. 2011. https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/breastfeeding/calltoactiontosupportbreastfeeding.pdf

[5] Murtagh, L., & Moulton, A. D. (2011). Working Mothers, Breastfeeding, and the Law. American Journal of Public Health, 101(2), 217–223. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.185280

[6] Office of Women's Health. 2018. https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/employer-solutions/common-solutions/solutions.html