In this day and age, many women need to return to work and do so without much time off post the birth of their child. We are also more out and about in the community. We know that the benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding and are more actively promoting and supporting this. Healthy People 2020 has goals for more than 80% initiation and early breastfeeding of our babies. We know that mothers and infants are healthier, and that employers save money in healthcare coverage costs, less absenteeism, increased retention of employees and employee satisfaction. However, how are we supporting breastfeeding mothers in the community and as they return to work, and how can we encourage and assist employers in supporting their staff?
The state of Michigan assists in the protection of nursing mothers, we are one of the states that has laws that protect breastfeeding in public and private locations, that provide exemption from indecency laws (that means we can breastfeed at the park and in the mall, we can bare our breasts), and that breastfeeding women can be exempted or can postpone jury duty.
Federal law, specifically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which took effect in March of 2010, provides assistance and protection for the first year of your child’s life. It amended Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that addresses employment and breastfeeding, and provides for break times to pump or express breast milk. It also addresses providing an appropriate and functional place to pump or express breastmilk (no more bathrooms!). There are some limitations to this law in that it primarily covers hourly workers and employers with greater than 50 employees, though many more employers have adapted these guidelines. You can find more information at the following websites or call 1-866-4-USWAGE (1-866-487-9243) for assistance.
Additionally, coverage of breast pumps, counseling and breastfeeding supplies were addressed by different components of the health care law. However, there were no specific guidelines as to what type of support, what type of breast pump or how much money was to be allocated toward these resources. Therefore, specific interpretation of the guidelines and coverage varies between insurance companies.
So what can WE do?
Where to pump/express breastmilk: Talk to your employer about your breastfeeding goals before your maternity leave. Do they have a place for you to pump or express breastmilk that fits the guidelines? Do they have a policy in place for pumping and breast milk storage? Are there other moms that are pumping and would they be willing to set up a pump station for all of you (and future moms). Offer to provide your employer with resources to create the best experience for mothers returning to work. The Office of Women’s Health has an excellent website that provides information for both you and your employer. Specifically at http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/employer-solutions/policy.html much information is available, including a sample “Policy for Supporting Breastfeeding Employees”. http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/employer-solutions/docs/SamplePolicy.pdf . Additional information, including statistics and information to support assisting breastfeeding women is available at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/breastfeeding/factsheet.html
Obtaining breast pumps: Most women returning to work or school do best with a good double electric breast pump. Know that insurance companies provide the dollars for your breast pump, but that you will be receiving the pump from a Durable Medical Supply Company (DME), not a pharmacy, though you may need a prescription for your pump. Call your insurance company before you have your baby, some companies will assist in providing a breast pump up to 30 days before your due date. Research the DME companies to see who has a contract with your insurance company and what pump they will provide. This can vary between DMEs. If only a single pump is covered by your insurance company – see if you can pay the difference to upgrade to a double pump, or if you can purchase a pump yourself and then be reimbursed. For families with babies born early or with special needs there may be differences in insurance coverage and Women Infants and Children (WIC) provides many resources for both pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and their children (up to 5 years old). They can be reached at 1-800-26-BIRTH, and you will be directed to an office near you.
Future Changes: We have power in numbers! Become active with your local and state Coalitions. Look into U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon) promotion of the Supporting Working Moms Act (SWMA) that will extend the current federal protections for women in additional work place roles, such as school teachers, administrative personnel and others that are salaried versus hourly employees. Information is available at http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5162/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=21010 .
Come join us at the September event https://www.facebook.com/events/1673046042908924/
We have the ability to promote change; we need to use our voice and numbers.
Janetlynne Erickson MSN FNP-BC IBCLC LCCE CPST
Additional resources: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/breastfeeding/index.html