August is National Breastfeeding Month—a time when breastfeeding coalitions, Departments of Health, advocates, and communities promote the important role all community members can play in supporting lactating parents.
Employers play a critical role in the success of their lactating employees by providing accommodations. Their support of a healthy workforce begins by understanding the many health benefits that human milk and lactation have for both infants and parents. For example, infants who are breastfed/chestfed tend to be healthier, so parents miss work less often and incur less health care costs. In addition, businesses with supportive lactation policies have lower turnover rates, health care savings, higher productivity and loyalty, and positive public relations.
Though New Mexico state law requires employers to provide a clean and private place that is not a bathroom for lactating parents, there are additional considerations once businesses reopen due to the pandemic. There may be increased concern about contamination and space demands. And, new health and safety rules may require parents to change into a new uniform, obtain permission to remove their uniform, or request temporary accommodations such as a change in duties. Parents may need more time for pumping and cleaning. For hourly employees who currently are essential workers, it is important to ensure team coverage and a space that is safe.
All this may sound daunting, but there are many creative alternatives. Employees and employers can work together to identify the most appropriate solutions for their business, schedules, and workspaces. Employers and business owners can set a positive tone through clear communication about policies, schedules, and cleaning protocols that will ensure all employees feel safe and supported. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- If your business has several lactating employees, stagger their schedules so not all of these parents work on the same day to ensure there is plenty of time between pumping sessions for cleaning and disinfection and to maintain social distancing guidelines in the pumping area.
- Create temporary rooms by offering unused or minimally used spaces or erecting inexpensive screens in a single space.
- Allow more time for a lactation break since it may take slightly longer for increased cleaning and safety precautions.
- Consider a temporary transfer of a lactating parent to another unit or alternative position.
- Allow work from home part-time, full-time, or through flextime.
- Post signage with CDC guidelines about workplace accommodations and laws in pumping areas.
- Request that custodial services increase cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surface areas such as doorknobs, countertops, tables, light switches, and soft surfaces.
- Ensure that trash and soap dispensers are regularly checked and cleaned, and all surfaces sprayed with disinfectant.
- Provide employees with a contact number if the lactation space needs attention so that parents using that area can help keep everyone healthy.
The New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force can suggest creative approaches to support lactating employees, create or improve your lactation policy, and provide signage, information, or resources for your business and staff. Contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (505) 395-MILK (6455). We’re here to help!
Monica Esparza is a Program Director for Delta Consulting Group. She currently serves as Deputy Director of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, providing programmatic support, chapter development, member and volunteer engagement, and direction for outreach and communications. In her role as Breastfeeding Task Force Workplace Liaison, Monica helped expand the program from two counties to statewide, ensuring businesses comply with laws about breastfeeding in public places. Monica is a Certified Lactation Counselor and trained community interpreter. She completed the HealthConnect One Birth Equity Leadership Academy Cohort, and the 2020 Women of Color Non-Profit Leadership Initiative. She serves on the BELA Advisory Committee and the National College of Midwifery board of directors. Monica is a dedicated community grassroots organizer and advocate. She is also a mother, child, sister, neighbor, and friend who lives with her two beautiful children and husband in the South Valley of Albuquerque, NM.