What People Say About Breastfeeding at Work (Spoiler Alert: They Support It!)

breastfeeding at work, breastfeeding laws, lactation laws, workplace accommodations, infant at work, baby at work, breastfeeding support, working mom, working mother, working parent, working parents, LaConte Consulting

A recent survey of over 4,000 respondents reveals increasing support for breastfeeding, paid maternity leave, and employer incentives.

Here is a summary of the findings, as well as my comments on trends we’re seeing in breastfeeding support and equitable workplace accommodations.

An in-depth private marketing survey conducted for several years by SummerStyles (formerly HealthStyles) in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an encouraging trend of public support for breastfeeding.

In this evaluation, I will compare the two most surveys, which were completed in 2015 and 2018.

Although the SummerStyles survey does not provide demographic data about respondents, it is safe to believe that it was sent to a wide sample. So these sentiments were not just among breastfeeding mothers, but of a much wider segment of the US population.

Questions that were posed include: 

  1. I am comfortable when mothers breastfeed their babies near me in a public place, such as a shopping center, bus station, etc.
  2. I believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public spaces
  3. Public buildings need to have a room where women could breastfeed and pump milk for their babies
  4. Women should be encouraged to breastfeed.
  5. A mother needs lots of support to breastfeed her baby.
  6. Feeding a baby formula instead of breast milk increases the chances the baby will get sick
  7. There should be paid maternity leave for workers
  8. I believe employers should provide extended maternity leave to make it easier for mothers to breastfeed.
  9. I would support financial incentives for employers who make special accommodations to make it easier for mothers to breastfeed.
  10. If a mother breastfeeds her baby, she may be less likely to develop breast cancer later in her life
  11. If a mother breastfeeds her baby, she may be less likely to develop high blood pressure later in her life
  12. I believe it is acceptable for mothers to feed their baby with the breast milk obtained informally from another mother (not including pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank)
  13. Have you ever heard about mothers feeding their babies with breast milk from another mother through an informal arrangement such as an internet exchange (not including pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank)?

Here is the data collected from the SummerStyles Survey from 2015 and 2018, compared side-by-side.

Questions2015  2018  
 
Agree
Neither Agree or Disagree
Disagree
Agree
Neither Agree or Disagree
Disagree
1. I am comfortable when mothers breastfeed their babies near me in a public place, such as a shopping center, bus station, etc.58%23%19%   
2. I believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public spaces64%23%13%68%21%11%
3. Public buildings need to have a room where women could breastfeed and pump milk for their babies   67%24%9%
4. Women should be encouraged to breastfeed.63%33%5%   
5. A mother needs lots of support to breastfeed her baby.49%35%16%   
6. Feeding a baby formula instead of breast milk increases the chances the baby will get sick   24%44%32%
7. There should be paid maternity leave for workers70%20%10%77%18%6%
8. I believe employers should provide extended maternity leave to make it easier for mothers to breastfeed.47%33%20%   
9. I would support financial incentives for employers who make special accommodations to make it easier for mothers to breastfeed.41%38%21%   
10. If a mother breastfeeds her baby, she may be less likely to develop breast cancer later in her life   25%62%13%
11. If a mother breastfeeds her baby, she may be less likely to develop high blood pressure later in her life   15%73%13%
12. I believe it is acceptable for mothers to feed their baby with the breast milk obtained informally from another mother (not including pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank)   34%45%21%
13. Have you ever heard about mothers feeding their babies with breast milk from another mother through an informal arrangement such as an internet exchange (not including pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank)?   Yes 40%No 60% 

Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: CDC Public Opinions About Breastfeeding

 

Observations

As you can see above, support for breastfeeding has increased in the two years that are being compared.

Survey questions were not identical in both years (complete survey is available here). So unfortunately, we can’t compare the results for anything except 2 questions — about public places, and about paid maternity leave. We can still gain some interesting information from participants’ responses.

Breastfeeding in Public Places

1. I am comfortable when mothers breastfeed their babies near me in a public place, such as a shopping center, bus station, etc.

Well over 50% of respondents agreed to this statement in 2015 (the 2018 survey did not ask this question).

Several US states have legalized the act of public breastfeeding as part of Non-Discrimination laws (including Washington state). As more states lend support to public and workplace accommodations, positive support for breastfeeding is likely to continue rising.

2. I believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public spaces.

A “yes” response rose from 63% of survey respondents in 2015. The 2018 survey showed a rise to over 68% in favor of a woman’s right to feed her baby in public.

3. Public buildings need to have a room where women could breastfeed and pump milk for their babies.

Two new laws make it easier for breastfeeding to happen in public spaces.

Federal Buildings Law

Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019 (H.R. 866)

Signed into law in July 2019, this bipartisan bill requires federal buildings to provide a separate room for breastfeeding (aside from a bathroom). The law does not require any new federal funds to be spent or for permanent structural changes. It only mandates that space be made available to visitors of federal sites as needed.

Airport Law

Friendly Airports for Mothers Act (FAM) of 2017 (S. 1110 / H.R. 2375)

This law requires “large and medium hub airports” to provide private lactation stations in a non-bathroom space at each terminal.

Such areas must be:

  • shielded from public view and free from intrusion;
  • have a lockable door;
  • include a place to sit, a table or other flat surface, and an electrical outlet;
  • be readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities; and
  • not be located in a restroom.

The implementation of lactation stations is required in all major US airports by October 1, 2020.

Breastfeeding Support

The other question that was asked in both survey years had to do with maternity leave.

4. Women should be encouraged to breastfeed.

An overwhelmingly positive response to this question (63%), and 33% neither agree nor disagree.

This indicates that the majority of people would support working mothers who want to breastfeeding their child as long as they wish — even after they return to work or school.

5. A mother needs lots of support to breastfeed her baby.

Nearly half of respondents (49%) answered Yes to this question, with another 35% saying Neither Yes or No (35%).

The decision to continuing lactation beyond the first few weeks is a difficult one, and support from family or friends is not always possible. 

Services such as WIC Breastfeeding can offer a number of free and low-cost resources that can help moms to overcome barriers to continued lactation.


6. Feeding a baby formula instead of breast milk increases the chances the baby will get sick.

This question was presented in the most recent survey. It shows that one-quarter of respondents (24%) believe that formula can result in a higher risk of illness, while 44% Neither Agree Nor Disagree. Nearly a third (32%) Disagree with this statement.

 

Maternity Leave and Employer Incentives

7. There should be paid maternity leave for workers.

An overwhelming “Yes” response increased from nearly 70% in 2015 to over 76% in the 2018 survey.

8. I believe employers should provide extended maternity leave to make it easier for mothers to breastfeed.

Nearly half (47%) of people in the first survey agreed with this statement, with only 20% disagreeing.

9. I would support financial incentives for employers who make special accommodations to make it easier for mothers to breastfeed.

Forty-one percent of respondents agree with incentives for companies who help breastfeeding moms. An additional 38% Neither Agree Nor Disagree, and 21% said No to this statement. 

The right to breastfeed at work was addressed by the federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision” as part of the 2010 Fair Labor Standard Amendment (FLSA). This law requires all US employers to provide:

  • a place (not in a bathroom) that is private, safe, and comfortable in which employees can express their breast milk, as well as
  • reasonable break time (in addition to normal breaks and lunch times) to do so. (You can read more here)

Many states are requiring employers to provide lactation accommodations in the workplace, beyond the scope of the federal law. (You can find more details here).

 

Health Benefits

10. If a mother breastfeeds her baby, she may be less likely to develop breast cancer later in her life.

A “Yes” response was only shared by 25% of respondents; and the majority (62%) had no opinion.

This could indicate the public’s unawareness about the health benefits of lactation.

11. If a mother breastfeeds her baby, she may be less likely to develop high blood pressure later in her life.

Similar to the previous question, a vast majority (73%) of surveyed people did not have an opinion on the health benefits of breastfeeding.

12. I believe it is acceptable for mothers to feed their baby with the breast milk obtained informally from another mother (not including pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank).

This survey question was asked in 2018, and over a third (34%) agreed that sharing breast milk between mothers is acceptable. Only 21% disagreed.

13. Have you ever heard about mothers feeding their babies with breast milk from another mother through an informal arrangement such as an internet exchange (not including pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank)?

An significant number of respondents (40%) are aware that informally sharing breast milk is possible. 

 

What do you think about this survey? Are you seeing a similar trend in your organization or community?

 


If you want help creating a Lactation or Infant at Work program in your organization, check out our services.

 

Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.

Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @lacontestrategy.

Published by Grace LaConte

Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting based in Vancouver, WA. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @lacontestrategy.

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