I just finished breastfeeding my 14-day-old baby for what felt like the 81st time today. Of course, I'm exaggerating. But perhaps not by much.
If you do the math, a year of breastfeeding equates to a conservative estimate of 1,800 hours of a mother's time. This isn't far off from a full time job considering that a 40-hour work week with three weeks of vacation comes in at 1,960 hours of work time a year.
The baby I nursed today is my fourth, so you could say I've made a career out of nursing -- all the while working actual, full time jobs. I've tried to follow the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics and exclusively breastfeed my children until they're six-months-old. But even now, all of these children later, I ask myself this question at least once a day: would I have been able to breastfeed my daughters if I hadn't had paid time off and flexible working situations? I don't think so. And that's a shame for many reasons, including the fact that supporting parents at work leads to greater employee retention.
It's well beyond time for all of us to rethink how we support breastfeeding mothers in corporate America. Simply put, we need to make it easier for breastfeeding mothers to pump milk at work.
Some background for the uninitiated: breast milk production is prompted by either the act of breastfeeding or by pumping. If a mother fails to do either of these throughout the day, this sends a message to her body to stop producing milk, and her supply will diminish drastically. To connect the dots, if a mother chooses to breastfeed but is away from her baby for extended periods of time (because she's, for example, working a full-time job), pumping milk at work is her only solution.
Today, however, only 29 states have enacted laws to protect breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, and only 40 percent of women have a designated space to pump that is not a bathroom, according to Bloomberg. This is unacceptable. And these numbers don't even begin to address the dilemma of work travel. What solutions do we have for breastfeeding mothers whose work requires travel? I've been there. One memorable time, I found myself running around Manhattan in search of dry ice to ship breast milk overnight to my two-month-old daughter at home in Seattle.
I'm also a business owner. I understand that the costs of accommodation can be high, particularly for small businesses. But, as more and more women elect to stay in the workforce throughout motherhood, it's employers' shared responsibility to put our heads together and offer options.
Modern companies offer employee benefits ranging from subscriptions for healthy meals to subsidized gym memberships and innumerable other outsourced services to ensure their employees can integrate work into their lives. Breastfeeding solutions should be approached in the same way.
Provide On-Site Benefits
Two industry giants -- Medela and Mamava -- recently announced they are teaming up to offer "New Moms' Healthy Returns," a program where employers can create custom packages to support breastfeeding mothers returning to work. The program offers an a-la-carte menu with options like Mamava's freestanding breastfeeding pods, Medela's breastfeeding products, breast milk shipping for traveling employees, and 24/7 virtual support powered by Pacify.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Mamava co-founder and CEO Sascha Mayer. I asked her what she hoped for as a result of the new program. She paused and replied, "My aspiration is that it's almost an expectation that employers will support breastfeeding mothers. I hope that mothers don't feel like they have to navigate something complicated -- or advocate for themselves in the workplace." Now, this is a future we can all get behind.
Offer Employee Resources While On-the-Go
Another option is Milk Stork, a company that provides an easy way to ship milk home from a work trip. The process is simple: Milk Stork ships a package to your hotel with a user-activated cooling unit and milk storage bags. You pump, pack and ship home from the front desk. Easy enough, but, in fact, revolutionary. I am not exaggerating when I say these solutions are absolutely life-changing for mothers in the workplace and families adjusting to life with a newborn.
Introduce Employee Discount Programs
At the very least, employers should offer employees subsidized prices for new breast pump tech such as Elvie, Willow and Babyation. Unlike traditional pumps that are loud and hard to cover up, new pumps are silent and hands-free, making it easier than ever for working moms to discreetly pump while at their desk or in a meeting. We should cultivate an environment where breastfeeding is not met with shame, and instead is a standard for working mothers to get done at work.
A myriad of other solutions are hitting the market and more are surely to come. With companies in constant competition to attract talent and retain employees, HR departments would be doing a disservice not to pay close attention. Women demand these solutions and workplaces that offer the flexibility will undoubtedly have a leg up. We all benefit from a world where breastfeeding and working are not in conflict.