Employers, here’s a quick win for your current workforce, future workforce, and business bottom line: support for breastfeeding parents. The PUMP Act, a significant piece of legislation, would have resulted in more than 12.7 million parents were able to breastfeed their children and continue to work. Now another bill must be passed. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would also expand breastfeeding protections for female workers.
Let’s be clear, families are not the only ones to benefit from this law. Positive externalities will also reach you.
Before going on maternity leave with my second child, my manager and I made three agreements for my postpartum return to work:
- I worked four 10-hour days and answered emails on the fifth day.
- I wouldn’t travel more than 25% of the time.
- I would only travel after my daughter is six months old.
These agreements were important to me because I wanted to make sure my daughter had a fair start to life, just like my first child. I was lucky that at the time of my first pregnancy, my manager allowed me to give up a year of travel so I could breastfeed my son. On the days I worked, I pumped at 4 a.m., 8 a.m., 12 p.m., and 4 p.m. Each pumping session lasted about 30 minutes. I breastfed my son for 13 months.
Unfortunately, my daughter did not get the same start in life as my son. My manager was fired while on maternity leave with my daughter. We only had the final agreement (that travel would resume after my daughter was six months old) in writing. It’s no coincidence that it became the only deal my new manager honored, and sparingly.
The day after my daughter’s six-month downpour, my manager brought me back to a rigorous travel schedule that meant I was airborne 50% of the time. My milk has dried up. And that was it. I was only able to breastfeed my daughter for eight months.
Breadwinner mothers lead 40% of U.S. households with children
I am the sole breadwinner in a family of four. Leaving the workforce or cutting back on my career to breastfeed my daughter were not viable options for me. Nor would they be viable options for the 16 million breadwinner mothers who support 28 million children in the United States.
Millions of mothers have to return to the paid labor market after giving birth, and this is where the feasibility of breastfeeding dissipates. In fact, the barrier number one breastfeeding is simply having a job. Approximately 60% of women say they lack break time and adequate facilities at work to express their breast milk.
Even if given fair pumping accommodation, mothers must navigate an insidious glass maze of stigma to perform this basic biological function. Breastfeeding discrimination lawsuits on the rise 800% during the last years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mom bias.
Despite the moms holding the record for the most engaged employees over the course of their careers, they face biases in hiring, compensation, performance and potential.
For example, mothers are perceived to be 12.1% less engaged in their work than non-mothers. Meanwhile, fathers are perceived to be 5% more engaged in their work than non-fathers. In addition, candidates who appear not to be mothers are twice as likely to get a job interview as candidates who appear to have children.
The trade-off between biology and economic security not only hampers parents in today’s workforce, it also disadvantages tomorrow’s workforce and the economy as a whole.
Breastfeeding: force multiplier and economic outsider
Economists peg the monetary value of breast milk production in the United States at more than $110 billion per year. In other words, breastfeeding is a big deal.
This is a big problem not only for the economy as an abstract system, but also for the actors that compose it. A study of new employed mothers found that 28% of their infants had not been sick during the one-year trial period. Of these 28%, 86% had been breastfed and 14% had been formula fed. When infants fell ill and this necessitated the absence of the mother from work, 75% of absenteeism came from mothers of formula-fed children compared to 25% from mothers of breastfed children.
This brings us to the business case for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding benefits the child (better health outcomes), it benefits the mother (freedom of choice and attachment) and it benefits the employer (reduced absenteeism and healthcare costs). A study found that health care costs per person fell by $2,146 for mothers who participated in company-supported maternity and breastfeeding programs compared to mothers who did not. The same study found that neonatal health care costs are three times higher for babies whose mothers did not participate in maternity and breastfeeding programs than for babies whose mothers participated in support programs. .
The return on investment for breastfeeding support programs would excite any investor in the current bear market. Every dollar invested in breastfeeding intervention pays off $35 back. And if only 90% of mothers in the United States exclusively breastfed their newborns for just six months, 911 lives would be saved and the US economy would be $13 billion stronger. The benefits of breastfeeding extend far beyond the parent-child unit. They come back to our businesses and enrich our system of economic functioning.
How Companies Can Support Breastfeeding Employees
The quickest way – and consider the table stakes – to realize the gains of breastfeeding is to provide adequate accommodations and support to breastfeeding parents.
To truly ease the power of the private sector and take a stand for fairness, employers must raise their voices and advocate for legislation such as the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Employers, this is your chance to stand up and speak out. It represents an investment in your current and future workforce.
Katica Roy is the founder and CEO of Pipeline Equity.