World Breastfeeding Week: Ideas for Employers

Website has pumping-accommodation suggestions for at least 20 industries

By Dana Wilkie Aug 6, 2014

Aug. 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week, and two federal entities are promoting an online toolkit to help businesses comply with federal requirements to accommodate breast-feeding employees.

The Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employers Solutions website features practical solutions for employers in at least 20 industries, including job settings that make pumping at work sometimes inconvenient, such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, manufacturing plants and construction sites. There are industry-specific suggestions for creating spaces for pumping, for giving mothers time to pump and for providing places to store expressed breast milk. The website also includes case studies and interviews with employers who’ve made accommodations for nursing workers.

The Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health launched the website in June 2014 at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Annual Conference & Exposition in Orlando, Fla. 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010, amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which covers most hourly wage-earning and some salaried employees. The law requires employers to provide two types of accommodations for nursing employees: A reasonable break time to express breast milk for one year after a child's birth and a place to express breast milk, other than a bathroom, that’s shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public. 

The online toolkit has a section answering employers’ frequently asked questions, such as this one: 

"Are there funds available to help pay for creating a milk expression room?“

Answer: “It can cost very little to provide a flexible space for nursing women or to retrofit existing space. Businesses that invest funds in support services for employees have experienced a 3:1 return on investment. Most of the expenses occur in the first year when starting the services. If funds are not available, consider more flexible options at first that do not require major renovations (e.g., using an empty office space, meeting room, etc.). Community grants could also be explored for additional assistance.”

Several sections offer recommendations when permanent pumping rooms aren’t practical for workers stationed primarily outdoors, such as those employed in agriculture and construction. In such cases, the website suggests the use of pop-up tents with zipped doors, portable lactation stations that lock from the inside, or a vehicle made private with windshield visors. 

Outdoor businesses, the website notes, can protect the privacy of nursing mothers with signs telling others that the space is in use. In such settings, employers can provide women who use electric breast pumps with an extension cord. Some companies provide breast pumps powered with a car battery. Mothers can keep their expressed milk in a small cooler with ice packs if standard refrigeration is unavailable.

The website has a section describing the business case for supporting breast-feeding, which notes that the practice reduces absenteeism, increases the productivity and loyalty of working moms who appreciate the support, and lowers health care costs. The website supports the latter claim with statistics from major insurance companies showing health care savings because, the website claims, mothers who breast-feed have a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and they recover from pregnancy more quickly than those who bottle-feed. 

Finally, the website includes videos showcasing compliant employers—such as the Indianapolis Hampton Inn—and how they accommodated nursing women on staff. In the case of the Hampton Inn, managers used the hotel’s hospitality suite, conference rooms and empty guest rooms for nursing mothers. 

Coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, World Breastfeeding Week will be observed in more than 175 countries. This year's theme is the importance of protecting, promoting and supporting breast-feeding, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals adopted at the Millennium Summit in 2000. The goals were created by governments and the United Nations to fight poverty and promote healthy and sustainable development by 2015. 

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM. 


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