Sunday, September 9, 2012

Breastfeeding and the Working Mom

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"

This was a presentation on a study from an occupational health and psychology perspective. The presenter, Dr. Bruk-Lee, explained that much of the research on women pumping at work focuses on evaluating lactation programs and their effectiveness, and the work-family conflict interventions/policies. The purpose of her particular study was to investigate the impact of perceived breastfeeding support at work on the job attitudes and psychological well-being of women who express milk at work.

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?


  1. I am still pumping for my 16 month old girl, in spite of many hurdles at work. I have not had a private, non-bathroom space to pump for my entire tenure as a pumping mom -- and I returned to work at 1 month from home and 3 months at the office. For a while I pumped in a utility closet, and then after we moved, I was able to pump from my own office. Neither have a lock, and I have been walked in on while pumping by just about every one of my coworkers -- even with a sign and a doorstopper on the inside of the door. My coworkers and boss frequently schedule meetings in my calendar with no breaks, even though I have blocked time off in my calendar to pump. They schedule meetings over these times. I even work while pumping, thanks to a hands-free bra. I think I would have had an easier time persisting if I was able to have a private space to pump and some time to do so. It's been hard.

  2. Hi Zahra, Thank you for commenting! Yes, that is very hard. I've heard a lot about the trouble with not having designated break time or space for feeding or pumping. It is a hardship, for sure. Good for you for sticking with it!

  3. I pumped at work for over a year, until my son was nearly 16 months old. I was lucky enough to have a pumping "room" - it was a walk-in closet with a folding table and office chair, but it locked and was private. I sincerely appreciate my work. I wish more employers were supportive of nursing, working moms. There are a number of good places to start if a mom wants to broach the subject of pumping at work with an employer. Unfortunately, I think you're right: cultural change will need to start taking place before we see big improvements.


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