Advocating for Breastfeeding Mothers: What Moms & Companies Can Do

How can we all better support moms on their breastfeeding journey? We sat down to explore this topic in our recent masterclass, Nurturing a Breastfeeding-Friendly Work Culture. The panel, full of amazing advocates for breastfeeding and women, coincided with World Breastfeeding Week. With this year’s theme of making a difference for working parents, plus new pregnancy and breastfeeding legislation going into effect, there’s no better time than now to have this important conversation.

The process can seem a bit daunting, but breaking it down step by step can help make it a little easier to take in and take action. Here are some tips to help you through the process.

Making a difference for working parents 

One main theme that emerged during the panel was the importance of advocacy, whether for yourself and for others. We were proud to have four amazing women advocates educating us with their knowledge and experience. The panel included:

  • Tera Hudson, Director of Brand Marketing & Activation at The Mom Project
  • Pam Cohen, Chief Research & Analytics Officer at Werklabs, The Mom Project
  • Sascha Mayer, Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer at Mamava
  • Sabrina Fox, Vice President of Global Marketing at Lansinoh

The discussion focused on three key areas: outlining recent legislation that affects pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, best practices for managers and colleagues in working with breastfeeding employees, and strategies for navigating your own breastfeeding journey in the office — all with the goal of fostering a more breastfeeding inclusive workforce.

How recent legislation impacts breastfeeding mothers 

The conversation kicked off with addressing two recent pieces of legislation that provide protection for both pregnant and nursing mothers in the workplace — the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act.

Lack of access to clean and/or private places to breastfeed has been an issue for many moms in the workplace. The PUMP act will open the door for women to continue breastfeeding after they return to work, providing protections for 9 million additional working moms.

The passage of this legislation is a win for working mothers and working parents generally. Returning to school or to work is one of the most common reasons women cite for not being able to meet their breastfeeding goals.” - Pam Cohen

Because it’s a win for working moms, it’s also a win for businesses, according to Pam. Research continually shows that parents who are happy with their companies bring more to the table — they’re more loyal, more productive, and more likely to stay. In addition, the ability to continue to breastfeed can have both financial and psychological impacts on mothers. Access to formula has been an issue over the past few years, and alleviating this stress can do wonders for mothers who are returning to work.

Tangible ways that companies can support breastfeeding moms 

Breastfeeding rates drop as women go back to work. At three months postpartum, 69% of mothers are breastfeeding. At six months, this number drops to 56%. We believe we can change that with the help of companies along with a shift in perspective in the culture.

In fact, Sabrina suggests that we really need to reposition the idea of breastfeeding as being a collective initiative, as both mother and baby benefit from breastfeeding. While legislation such as the PUMP Act is a great step toward bringing more awareness to the importance of breastfeeding, Sabrina hopes it sparks more conversations. 

Support can come in many forms. While accommodations are key, so is emotional support and acceptance. Breastfeeding mothers who need to pump don’t want to feel like a burden. They don’t want to be judged by co-workers. If we expand awareness into the toll that nursing and pumping can take on mothers, we can shift toward more emotional support and empathy.

Ways that companies and managers can provide support include:

    • Having policies and procedures in place: Don’t wait for breastfeeding mothers to ask for support. Establishing clear-cut policies can alleviate stress for all involved.
    • Providing special training for managers: This is critical and not often offered, according to Pam. Sometimes they just don’t understand what needs to happen and may not even be aware.
    • Ensuring access to comfortable pumping spaces: There are multiple reasons why mothers need a dedicated space to pump. Cleanliness is important, but, also, there is a psychological part of breastfeeding. Giving moms a relaxing environment, free of judgment, can help with letdown and provide the support they need to continue providing for their babies. Sascha defined the bare minimums: a lock, a comfortable seat, and an outlet. A well-labeled designated space is better than an overall wellness space.
    • Providing health insurance plans with access to breast pumps
    • Establishing cultural support for working parents: This tip may be the most broad and difficult to define, but it can be critically important. Leadership sets the tone for acceptance. Little acts of kindness, such as a co-worker sharing something a pumping mother might have missed while breastfeeding, could make a huge difference. What’s important is that nursing mothers feel normal and that breastfeeding is okay, not just tolerated.

“One of the things I talk about often is finding that “bosom buddy”...because you do feel isolated often as a parent or mom…if you have an advocate, it helps to have strength in numbers and to have maybe someone who isn’t breastfeeding advocate and be supportive of it.” - Sascha Mayer

Tips for parents advocating for themselves

The panel was in agreement — the best thing mothers can do is own the experience of breastfeeding with pride.
  • Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with current legislation.
  • Discuss your pumping plans with your supervisor: Ideally, this conversation will happen before you go out on leave, giving you time to work out logistics before you come back. You can use this conversation to get on the same page about accommodations and a pumping schedule, which should mimic the natural nursing times your baby would have.
  • Leave yourself plenty of time for nursing: Remember that it is your headspace that enables letdown, as Sascha pointed out. Make sure you’re not feeling rushed. Mark it in your calendar, and if you’re comfortable, be open about pumping to continue to increase awareness.

Its all about flexibility and respect 

Flexibility is critical when it comes to authentically supporting parents in the paid workforce, and businesses will absolutely reap the rewards with a more productive and more loyal workforce. As Pam noted, remote or hybrid working offers ample benefits for nursing mothers. During the pandemic, there was an observable increase in breastfeeding mothers and success and longevity.

  • 31% higher productivity expectations 
  • 50% more likely to say their organization is a great place to work
  • 49% more likely to stay and recommend to others

By the end, the panel agreed that the theme of the moment is advocacy — advocating for what helps moms thrive in the workplace. Because when moms are supported, they show up, they show out, and they stay.

Check out companies we love who are making a difference for parents throughout their feeding journey.

🤱🏽 Lansinoh Laboratories helps new moms with products, support and education
🤱🏼 Mamava's lactation pods make it easier for facilities everywhere to support breastfeeding anywhere
💚 Bobbie, a U.S. made organic infant formula founded by moms, knows first-hand that feeding is a journey, whether it's breast, bottle, or both
📱 pumpspotting makes software and solutions to support the feeding journey at work, at home and on-the-go (and we're proud to offer this benefit to our employees!)
🍼 Milkify makes it easy to freeze-dry breastmilk, extending shelf life by three years

The Mom Project offers resources, events and a connected Community in an effort to build a better workplace for our futures. Sign up! 

Recommended Articles

Subscribe to discover more resources, programs and events

Get on the list

New to The Mom Project? Sign up for our emails and discover more resources, programs and events!