With the current infant formula shortages, more parents are exclusively breastfeeding their babies longer. For many new families, breastfeeding and returning to work can be hard.
Fortunately, the Vermont Department of Health is letting families know that its breastfeeding programs offer support for workers and their employers to help make breastfeeding the easy choice.
For parents, Vermont laws provide protection for people who breastfeed in public and support for when they return to work. Federal healthcare reform includes break time requirements so parents can express breast milk at work.
For businesses, especially those struggling to fill vacancies, Department of Health officials say that becoming a breastfeeding-friendly employer is a great way to support new and current employees — with tangible benefits for all. Data shows that policies supporting new parents in the workplace benefit employers through decreased turnover, reduced absenteeism and, critical to both employer and employee bottom lines, lower health care costs.
World Breastfeeding Week was last week (Aug. 1-7), which prompted officials to suggest that local companies join the 24 businesses in Addison County that have already been certified by the Department of Health as breastfeeding-friendly employers. All that’s involved is instituting several fairly simple practices:
Establish a policy stating your company’s support of a parent’s choice to breastfeed, allowing the use of flexible time and breaks for expressing breast milk.
Make a clean, private space (not a bathroom) available for expressing breast milk.
Provide lactation education through flyers or other resources.
The Vermont Department of Health supports and encourages breastfeeding because of its important health benefits for both the person who is lactating and the baby. For adults, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and postpartum depression.
In addition to the important nutrition and growth benefits, babies who breastfeed have improved cognitive development and a reduced risk for chronic diseases. Breastfed babies also have a reduced risk of severe lower respiratory disease, ear infections and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death syndrome, known as SUID. Breastfeeding also offers important bonding opportunities for both.
Vermont is a leader in breastfeeding initiation, with 91.5% of babies in the state receiving human milk shortly after birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, by the age of six months, the rate of babies who are exclusively breastfed drops to 36.8%. This coincides with the time many parents return to the workforce, which Department of Health officials said shows just how important employer support for breastfeedingfriendly policies in the workplace is to people being able to make this healthy choice for their babies.
“Supportive work policies allow people the time and space to continue pumping and providing human milk to their babies,” said Deb Kitzmiller, a public health nurse with the department’s Brattleboro Local Health Office. “In addition to the significant health aspects, becoming a Breastfeeding Friendly Employer provides tangible benefits for businesses as well.”
Data shows policies that support new parents in the workplace can benefit employers through decreased turnover, greater productivity, reduced absenteeism, higher morale and staff loyalty, as well as through lower health care costs (average annual savings is $400 per breastfed baby).
For more information, assistance and resources, visit: healthvermont.gov/breastfeeding-friendly-employers, or call 802-388-4644.