Promoting breastfeeding among workers

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Elizabeth Leis Newman
Elizabeth Leis Newman

Breastfeeding a child up to a year may help him or her develop more vocabulary, according to a recent Harvard Medical School study released in JAMA Pediatrics.

By age 3 and age 7, verbal ability was higher for each month the baby was breast-fed, and the study took into account factors such as the mothers' intelligence levels and the child's home environment.

Two questions you may be asking: “Isn't this a woman's issue?” and “What does this have to do with long-term care?”

The answers:  “No,” and, “Because you want to keep talented staff and lower healthcare costs.”

Breastfeeding access also is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act: In 2010, an amendment was added that “requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom place for nursing mothers to express breast milk during the workday, for one year after the child's birth.”

Granted, who is covered under the FLSA can be confusing, but the hope is it will spur more businesses to embrace positive breastfeeding policies. There's an entire document called “The Business Case for Breastfeeding,” issued by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

What we know is that breastfed children tend to be healthier, which means less missed time for physician appointments and lower healthcare costs. Take for example, that around $200,000 is spent for each case of a baby with necrotizing enterocolitis, which has a 10% occurrence in formula-fed babies and a 1% occurrence rate in breastfed babies.

Some may complain about the government promoting breastfeeding, or secretly believe more women should stay home with their children. But that is not the world we live in.

So what is your obligation? An employee with a private office might not need more than a lock on her door and window coverings. Other employees, such as floor nurses, need a small basic room, preferably with a sink, small refrigerator, an electrical outlet, disinfectants and, ideally, a telephone. Most importantly, these nursing mothers need support to take breaks every few hours to pump.

Do not wait for a certified nursing assistant or nurse to awkwardly broach this topic with you. Be proactive. As long-term care administrators, human resources managers, or directors of nursing, there is only so much you can do to keep talented employees. You may not be able to offer raises, extra vacation, or even professional development opportunities.

But I'm betting you can find a 4 x 5 room in your building with an electrical outlet.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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