This week the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement that extends the recommended period of time for breastfeeding from 1 to 2 years. See news release here.
Today, more than 80% of new mothers in the United States begin breastfeeding,1 and 6 in every 10 new mothers are in the workforce.2 Research has shown lower breastfeeding rates in women working full time compared with those working part time or not employed. Companies that want to recruit working mothers, as well as retain their talented women employees, are taking significant steps to support women and their spouses or partners following maternity leave. Here, I will discuss some practical tips managers and moms can take to ease the transition and ultimately support mom's breastfeeding goals.
Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed a baby. Research shows that both mothers and babies benefit from breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding lowers an infant’s risk of:
- Respiratory Infections
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Ear Infections
Breastfeeding lowers a mother’s risk of:
- Breast Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- Type 2 Diabetes
- High Blood Pressure
- Cardiovascular Disease Past Menopause
So, how can moms and managers master the transition back to work? Here are some tips for both moms and managers.
Tips for Managers:
As a manager or supervisor, you play a critical role in an employee’s successful transition from maternity / parental leave back to work.
1. Model key behaviors by being transparent about your own caregiving obligations. Employees will follow your lead. Talk about your own family obligations or mention when you are headed to your daughter's big softball game so your team knows that time with family is important to you.
2. Support transitions. It’s critical to support parents as they return to work from parental leave. If possible, send the new breastfeeding mom a care package prior to returning to work. Make the time for a coffee with your returning employee, preferably OUT of the office. Allow them to share their experiences as new parents and ask them to show you baby photos! You should be present (in-person or virtually) as much as you can for the first few days but if you are struggling to find the time, assign a buddy to help get them up to speed.
3. Demonstrate understanding of company resources and communicate where to find them. Assemble a list of resources, along with any employer-sponsored benefits and services that can help the employee. If available, inform employee of any company-sponsored business resource groups focused on caregiver support.
4. Discuss space available and time required for expressing breast milk. Provide the new mom information related to where the closest lactation rooms are and how to access them. Have a good understanding of the time expectations (in an average workday, most nursing moms need 2-3, 15-20 minute breaks to pump); plus the transportation time to and from the lactation room.
5. Discuss work schedules and be flexible. Encourage project teams to work with managers and employees to achieve flexibility and predictability. Build out schedules that work for everyone on the team.
Tips for Moms:
1. Treat your maternity leave like any other project. Map out your maternity leave with the same detail and attention you’d apply to any other work project. What are your goals? Are there any holes in your postpartum support network that’ll get in your way? It truly helps to write down a plan for even your most basic needs—where your food is coming from, what is your partner’s work schedule, etc
2. Check-in Ask to meet your boss for lunch or coffee a few weeks before your return to get a status update. What projects are in flight? Have there been any changes to your responsibilities or role that will go into effect when you return? By getting a lay of the land early, you can relieve some of that mental load during your first week back.
3. Give your new routine a trial run. Getting baby ready, and yourself out the door. This may require more time and effort than you ever imagined. If possible, send baby to daycare for a half day while you run errands for a few hours. You'll get the chance to try out (and time) that routine so there are no surprises your first day back. (Plus, it’s a really good opportunity to get a haircut or massage.)
4. Embrace your new identity. You’re heading back to work with a new identity—and it is a wonderful opportunity to let your coworkers and boss see that. Bring your baby in for a visit, keep a photo at your desk, or share the occasional funny story about mom life.
5. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Heading back to work can be exhausting and stressful—and it’s ok if you’re not feeling happy about it, or question quitting, or cry getting into the car. What’s helpful is realizing these feelings aren’t permanent—it gets easier, it really, really does—and figuring out what works for you as a mom and employee takes time.
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Stacey Dohman, MS, RDN