I recently attended an occupational health presentation entitled "Breastfeeding and the Working Mom: The Impact of Perceived Breastfeeding Support at Work on the Well-Being and Job Attitudes of Women"
Psychological 'well-being' encompassed burnout, postnatal depression, work family conflict, and job satisfaction. 'Job attitudes' related to performance, turnover, commitment, counterproductive behaviors, and organizational citizenship. Breastfeeding support came either from the organization (policies, physical accommodations, etc), or from supervisors and co-workers.
Interestingly, 82% felt they could often or always express all of the milk the baby required during the workday. 62% reported no company designated place for women to breastfeed or pump (and these were women in a variety of professions and settings). Reasons they stopped expressing breast milk (on average when babies were 33 weeks old): 54% personal choice; 26% employer; 14% supervisor; 6% health care provider.
Organizational policies affect more than breastfeeding duration, i.e. psychosocial work environment and performance. What the study concluded overall was that co-workers/supervisor support was more important for levels of well-being and good job attitude than the organizational support (like physical spaces to pump). Breastfeeding support offered by supervisors and coworkers was a stronger predictor of outcomes than other forms of support.
Much of the focus on improving breastfeeding support for working moms is targeted at adding reasonable break time for moms to express milk and the provision of a private non-bathroom space in which to do so. This is important, but this study shows that this organizational support is not as effective at improving mom's psychosocial well-being, work performance, turnover rates, etc as coworkers and supervisor social support.
So what can be done? What should we be doing to improve this aspect of work support? Giving workshops on lactation? That might never happen in most work environments.
The presenter had no solutions. The answer is basically that it will take cultural change, which takes time. But we clearly can't remain focused solely on the physical space. Perhaps, though, having a space, and breaks times, etc, will make it more the norm, which will contribute to changing attitudes about expressing milk at work.
What are your thoughts?