University Park, Pa. – Penn State recently implemented a University-wide lactation policy for faculty and staff who choose to nurse their infant children. The policy supports mothers who choose to continue breastfeeding their babies for up to two years after returning to work.
Auden Thomas, former chair of Penn State’s Commission for Women, said outcomes of Penn State faculty/staff focus groups revealed that employees hoped a breastfeeding policy would be implemented. They wanted to know that returning to work would not interfere with their ability to breastfeed, that their supervisors would not object to the time spent lactating or nursing and that they could do so in a clean, sanitary place.
Research shows that breastfeeding not only provides health benefits to both the infant and the mother, but also has a positive impact on employers that support it. According to the Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition, breastfeeding is the best source for infant nutrition, while lowering the risk of certain cancers for mothers. It also reduces absenteeism in the workplace as well as health care costs, according to the coalition.
Cynthia Bartok, assistant professor of kinesiology and developer of the Penn State Breastfeeding Support Program, said that breastfeeding reduces ear infections, intestinal infections and respiratory infections in infants. It also helps protect children, especially those exposed to germs in day care, with antibodies built up by the mother. She explained that mothers are less likely to miss work because of a sick child at home and will feel more positive about going back to work and less likely to quit. Better infant and worker health means lower health care and insurance costs as well.
“Implementing this policy was a lot different from what I expected,” Bartok said. “It wasn’t much of a challenge at all, which just goes to show the spirit of Penn State is to take care of its employees.”
Guidelines set in the policy allow mothers to breastfeed or express milk for 15 to 20 minutes about every three to four hours. The time used for this will run concurrently with normal breaks and meal periods. However, mothers can request flexible work schedules: a shortened lunch break with morning and afternoon lactation breaks or earlier arrival at or later departure from work to make up for lactation breaks. The policy also states that breastfeeding or milk expression may take place in public or private. If the mother prefers privacy, her department needs to provide a secure, sanitary area, other than a restroom, with an electrical outlet. At University Park and several other campuses, rooms are being set aside for use by lactating mothers.
Thomas said the commission conducted a study to find the best solutions and once they were proposed, the University accepted them easily. Coincidentally, at the same time the Commission for Women was working on a Penn State policy, nationally the new health care reform bill implemented a requirement that employers support women’s efforts to breastfeed or express milk in the workplace. This continues the federal government’s efforts to improve breastfeeding rates in the country to improve maternal–child health and reduce health care costs. (About $13 billion in excess health care dollars are spent each year in the U.S. as a result of national sub-optimal breastfeeding rates.)
“The two policies dovetailed nicely,” said Thomas. “I think Penn State went above and beyond the bare minimum federal recommendations, so we’re really pleased. It was very good timing that this was also being addressed nationally.”
For more information on breastfeeding support at Penn State, please visit http://www.hhdev.psu.edu/breastfeeding/ online.