Gaps in the Accessibility and Quality of Breastfeeding Resources at Work Still Exist
Sun, April 18, 2021

Gaps in the Accessibility and Quality of Breastfeeding Resources at Work Still Exist

Breastfeeding your baby brings many benefits, such as reduced ear infection, lower risk for asthma, and protection against allergies, among others / Photo by: Evgeny Atamanenko via 123RF


Breastfeeding your baby brings many benefits, such as reduced ear infection, lower risk for asthma, and protection against allergies, among others. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged that it is one of the most effective ways to ensure the child’s health and survival. Despite these benefits, a new study from the University of Georgia finds that women still face barriers when it comes to workplace breastfeeding.

Workplace Breastfeeding

Authors Rachel E. McCardel and Heather M. Padilla wrote that there are still gaps in the accessibility and quality of breastfeeding resources at work. Examples of breastfeeding resources are private spaces and break times. These help working moms exclusively breastfeed their babies for up to 6 months. However, not all employers today provide lactation resources. In the United States, there is even an Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide mothers the necessary time and space to use a breast pump or breastfeed their child while at work.

To come up with their findings, the researchers recruited working mothers between the ages of 18 to 50 who had just given birth in the last 2 years. They participated in the survey online. The result shows that approximately 78.8% of the participants had access to private spaces and only 65.4% had access to break times meant for breastfeeding. Fewer participants reported lactation consultants, support groups, and breast pumps. This means that gaps in workplace accessibility to breastfeeding still exist. The survey only covered working moms in the US but it is believed that the gap also exists in other countries.

McCardel and Padilla shared that their participants were working moms from different industries. They said that they wanted to learn how to make the situation better based on a collective experience from the working moms surveyed. Specifically, their study intended to determine the support for workplace breastfeeding as federal guidelines have already required employers to offer unpaid break time for breastfeeding and a station other than the restroom for female employees to express their breast milk.

Many of the respondents admitted that they had not expected to get as much help from their employers with regards to workplace breastfeeding and there is a lack of communication about the existence of said resources.

What Employers Can Do

Padilla, who is also an assistant professor at the College of Public Health, notes that one small fix employers can adopt to lessen the gap is to assign a person who will be responsible to make sure that pregnant women are aware of the available resources in the company so that it will be of use to them by the time they return to work after giving birth. This person could be a mentor, HR director, or supervisor.

Employees’ Breastfeeding Support: Statistics

Based on the recent American Survey on Workplace Health, 46% of worksites in the US are offering health promotion programming but only 8% of them have lactation resources. This means a missed opportunity as it is an important part of the work-life balance, most especially for new moms. If employers wanted to keep their valued employees, it is important to consider the challenges that working mothers encounter in the workplace. Padilla added that society should make it easier for women to combine the opportunity to work and take care of their young children. It should not be a choice of either of the two. Their study also appeared in the journal Workplace Health and Safety titled “Assessing Workplace Breastfeeding Support Among Working Mothers in the United States.”

Nearly 820,000 children will be saved every year if breastfeeding would be scaled up to an almost universal level. The scientific online publication Our World in Data has further shown the number of child deaths in the world from 12.58 million in 1990 down to 9.82 million in 2000 and 8.32 million in 2005. In 2010, the number of deaths of children under five years old was 6.99 million and that declined to 5.42 million in 2017. Globally, only 40% of babies below six months of age are exclusively breastfed by their mothers. Breastfeeding in the first six months of life will help achieve the optimal health, development, and growth of the child. Thereafter, infants need to receive safe and adequate nutritionally complementary foods while still breastfed for up to two years or beyond. This is according to WHO.

In 2017, 352 respondents were asked by database company Statista if they breastfeed their baby in public. Some 33% of respondents answered yes and regularly while 29% answered yes, but only sometimes. Meanwhile,19% of mothers answered yes, but only if she had or has no other option and the remaining 19% answered no. The age group of the respondents was 18 years old and older.

Infant Nutrition Market

Meanwhile, the global infant nutrition market was valued at US$71.40 billion in 2018 and it is forecasted to reach $98.90 billion by 2024 with a 5.58% CAGR. The certain factors that will propel the growth of the market include the increase in the number of working mothers, increasing demand for organic baby food, and higher spending on infant health. Today, more parents are spending more on their infants compared to the previous years because of social factors too. Several surveys have shown that parents spend a high amount of money on their kids, sometimes out of social anxiety, shame, or guilt. Convenience-oriented lifestyles are also making prepared baby formula and baby foods more desirable to the population today, especially in the middle-class and developing countries.

While infant nutrition is a substitute for breastmilk, the latter remains highly nutritious for babies and provides many benefits: it reduces the risk of viruses, inflammatory bowel disease, ear infections, gastroenteritis, and respiratory infections. Breastfeeding also makes vaccines more effective because they have a better antibody response to vaccines compared to formula-fed kids. Breast milk likewise makes the baby smarter and brings him or her closer to their mothers.

Breastfeeding benefits moms by providing them with an opportunity to get close to their baby, save money, have natural birth-control protection, delay menstruation, heal the body after delivery, lower the risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis, help lose pregnancy weight, and lower the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

With all the benefits of breastfeeding for babies and for moms, the cuddly closeness and skin-to-skin contact between the two should be encouraged not only at home but also in the workplace.