How Breastfeeding And Pumping Impact Women's Postpartum Employment

So many pregnant women are reconsidering their jobs.

Despite the fact that it's now legal to nurse publicly in all 50 states, breastfeeding continues to harbor an unusual stigma. While women have been providing sustenance for their offspring since the beginning of time, many still believe this natural act should be performed in private, hidden away from the public eye. In fact, despite legal obligation, employers also often fail to meet the needs of new mothers, offering few options for breastfeeding and pumping in the workplace.

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However, according to a new study conducted by Aeroflow Healthcare, women are no longer settling for less than they deserve, as many pregnant women — 47 percent, to be exact — have considered changing jobs or careers as they seek an environment that's more breastfeeding-friendly. Because, while 75 percent of the 774 pregnant women polled plan to continue breastfeeding after they return to work, only 47 percent work for companies that already have a designated lactation area.

"While we have made great strides in supporting breastfeeding moms, this survey clearly shows we have much more work to do," Jennifer Jordan, director of Mom & Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare, explained in the report. "It is concerning that negative connotations around breastfeeding and pumping in the workplace still exist. Simply put, this is unacceptable and we must do better."

As Carolyn Rush noted in an article for 1 Million for Work Flexibility, breastfeeding was the normative means of nurturing a child in the 1800s, as more than 95 percent of infants in the United States were breastfed until sometime between the ages of 2 and 4. However, by 2011, studies showed that 79 percent of infants started to breastfeed — a number that subsequently dropped to 49 percent at 6 months old and 27 percent at 12 months old. This marked decline in breastfeeding correlates with the growth of women's participation in the labor force, which went from 28 percent in 1940 to 58 percent in 2012. 

According to Aeroflow's study, 63 percent of the expectant mothers polled also believe there's a stigma attached to mothers who breastfeed or pump at work. In fact, 20 percent of those surveyed are worried about how their supervisor or HR department will react once they talk to them about their postpartum breastfeeding plan. While only 35 percent say they've had a negative interaction with a co-worker because of this motherly act, 49 percent are worried that breastfeeding or pumping at work could impact their career growth

"We hope this study creates a groundswell of awareness and appreciation for the mothers so devoted to both their children and their careers, often at the expense of the latter," Jordan added. "Aeroflow stands united as an organization to address these stigmas and challenges in corporate America head on by working directly with mothers, lactation consultants, and our medical partners to ensure breastfeeding tools and resources are available for those who need them most."

Cover image: Irina Polonina / Shutterstock.com

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