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FOR RELEASE: July 25 , 2006
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Breastfeeding and Employment: Making it Work

Everyday many families are faced with financial hardships in Oklahoma, and mothers who have recently given birth are faced with a difficult decision – whether or not to stay home to raise the child or return to work to make ends meet. Many mothers choose the latter. As they return to work, health officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health are seeing an increase in the number of breastfeeding women entering the workforce who want to continue nursing their babies to help keep them healthy.

Of mothers who choose not to breastfeed, one-third cite returning to work or school as the reason. Mothers who are breastfeeding may face harassment, discrimination and punishment for trying to express milk for their infants during their breaks and at lunch time. This has led to recent legislation that supports the right of working women to express milk for their infants during normal, unpaid break times.

The theme this year for World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1-7, is “Support the Working Breastfeeding Mother.” Many employers are discovering that when they provide accommodations for their breastfeeding employees who have returned to work from maternity leave, everyone – babies, mothers, families, and employers – benefits.

Some of the benefits to employers include:

  • Improved employee productivity.
  • Increased job satisfaction.
  • Improved employee retention.
  • Reduced health care costs.
  • A family-friendly image in the community.
  • Reduced number of sick days to care for ill children; breastfed babies are healthier, have fewer infections, and require fewer days in the hospital than formula-fed babies.

Some women may find it difficult to continue breastfeeding once they return to work. Employers can reduce many workplace challenges with a small investment of time, flexibility, and money by providing a clean, private space that is not a bathroom for their employees to express milk. The room should have an electrical outlet and a comfortable chair with a table. Providing a sink for hand washing and a refrigerator for milk storage would be helpful, but not required for a “breastfeeding room.”

Women, Infants and Children (WIC) clinics across the state will be hosting various festivities to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week. Lunch cooler bags displaying the “Support the Working Breastfeeding Mother” logo will be distributed to WIC breastfeeding mothers. The lunch cooler bags can be used to store breastmilk and promote breastfeeding in the workplace. In addition, public service announcements for television and radio will begin airing this summer encouraging employers to provide accommodations in the workplace for nursing mothers to express milk.

For more information about working and breastfeeding, contact the county health department in your area or call the statewide WIC nutrition line at 1-888-655-2942, extension 11258.

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