Health & Fitness

Health benefits add up for those who breast-feed

Why should employers support breast-feeding? Studies show that employers with policies that support breast-feeding report less absenteeism and lower employer health-care costs. This is because breast-feeding reduces the risk of illness and disease for both infant and mother.

Among infants, breast-feeding lowers the risk of ear infection, allergies, respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, and a host of other illnesses and diseases. A 1995 study revealed breast-feeding employees miss work less often than mothers who do not breast-feed. Breast- feeding women also have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. That means, over time, breast-feeding support can positively affect the bottom line of employers’ health care costs.

The Health Care Reform Act requires employers with more than 50 employees to make reasonable accommodation to support employees who wish to breastfeed after the birth of a child. In Washington state, more than 90 percent of new moms begin breast-feeding their babies. When these women go back to work, many will become breast-feeding employees.

By making small changes to their workplaces, businesses can increase productivity, lower employee turnover, and increase morale of breast-feeding mothers. Employees are valuable assets, and their dedication and well-being are important to the profitability of any business.

A 2001 Mutual of Omaha study looked at the effect breast-feeding support had on employee turnover. The study found that when employers provided breast-feeding support after the birth of a child, 85 percent of breast-feeding employees returned to the workplace. When no support was provided, only 59 percent of breast-feeding employees returned to the workplace.

Also, it’s this simple: Supporting breast-feeding employees results in higher employee morale and improves a company’s overall image. This can result in a positive boost to company recruitment efforts.

It takes little time and investment to create a supportive breast-feeding workplace. In fact, employers report cost saving when implementing even modest breast-feeding support programs. All that is needed is:

A private space (that is not a bathroom) where the mother can express milk;

Allowing employees’ time to pump during scheduled breaks and lunches;

Your support.

A more comprehensive breast-feeding program may include having a written breast-feeding policy, a dedicated lactation room, and flexible work hours.

If you are an employer who is interested in learning more about resources available in Thurston County, contact Kateri Wimsett at 360-867-2516 or wimsetk@co.thurston.wa.us

I also invite you to join the Washington Breast-feeding-Friendly Employer Project. The purpose of this project is to help employers provide supportive workplace policies and formally recognize employers that do. The information found at the BCW website (www.breastfeedingwa.org) can help you achieve the Breast-feeding Friendly Employer Designation.

Breast-feeding benefits babies, employers, moms, and business – a win-win for all.

Diana T. Yu is the health officer for Thurston and Mason counties. She can be reached at 360-867-2501 or yud@co.thurston.wa.us.

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