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World Breastfeeding Week 2013: The Workplace and Employment Circle of Support

During World Breastfeeding Week 2013, we will be highlighting the work of IBCLCs in each of the 5 Circles of Support mentioned in this year’s theme ~ Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers. Each weekday during this celebratory week, we will be shining the light on innovative and exciting models of care in each of these areas. Check back everyday for more encouraging examples of breastfeeding supporters being close to mothers.

Vergie Hughes, USA

IMG_3126We were able to interview Vergie while at the 2013 ILCA Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Vergie has a long history of working in maternal child health and for the past 27 years, she has been an IBCLC. In addition to her work described here, she is the program director for Lactation Education Resources where she provides education for lactation consultants (and lactation consultants-to-be) all over the world. She shared with us the following responses.

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme is “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers”. The organizers have identified 5 Circles of Support that are critical for breastfeeding mothers in our world and one of those circles is “Workplace and Employment”. Can you describe for us the work you are doing in the field of lactation to support working mothers? How did you become involved in this work? What does a typical day of supporting working mothers look like?

I have been the lactation consultant working on a contract with America Online (AOL) for more than 10 years now. I have worked in many areas of lactation over the years, but this is one of the most fun. I teach prenatal breastfeeding classes, have phone and email contact with the mothers [who are employed by AOL] over the months of pregnancy and during the time they are establishing lactation. Some even call me from the hospital, since we have an established relationship. Then, we keep in contact regarding any questions that come up and as they plan to return to work. The continuity of support with these mothers is so rewarding and often lacking in other work venues.

AOL is wonderful in that it provides 3 months of maternity leave and a pumping room with a hospital grade breast pump in each facility. Those things really make it easier for mothers to maintain breastfeeding when they do return to work.

The World Breastfeeding Week organizers stated “Employed women face challenges and need support at working and breastfeeding. The opportunities for mother support are as varied as the work women do, but usually involve facilitating mother-baby contact or expression and storage of breast milk.” Can you expand a bit on what some of the unique challenges are that women who work away from their babies face?

I do think that the women that I work with at AOL have an ideal situation since they are in an office environment with good support. It is not so easy for women who work in an outdoor environment, a busy retail environment, or in a setting with an unsupportive supervisor or co-workers. A lactation consultant can be the key person to help this mom problem solve her pumping situation and suggest strategies for persevering in a hostile workplace.

The challenges and need for support for women who are working outside of the home have been present for many years. But there is hope! What are some of the most recent initiatives, laws, and policies that have made breastfeeding for women in the workplace easier over the years? What are your hopes for the future?

I do think that support for breastfeeding has improved over the past few years. In the United States, the new Affordable Care Act regulations have made breast pumps more available to mothers, which is good. However, the quality of these pumps and the quick availability is often lacking.

The regulations regarding workplace accommodation of lactating mothers has been supportive of women who request time and a place for breast pumping. Hopefully, a supervisor would provide these accommodations for the breastfeeding mother because it is the “right thing to do”. But, if not, then the mother has the support of the regulations to push for the time and facilities that she needs.

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