Protections may be in place for employees who breastfeed, but the onus is on working moms to seek out the resources they need, according to a University of Georgia survey.
"We know that there are benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the infant, and we know that returning to work is a significant challenge for breastfeeding continuation," said lead author Rachel McCardel, a doctoral student in UGA's College of Public Health.
"There is a collective experience that we wanted to explore and learn how can we make this better," McCardel said in a university news release.
Federal regulations enacted more than 10 years ago require employers to provide unpaid break time and a space other than a restroom for employees to breastfeed or pump milk.
McCardel and co-author Heather Padilla interviewed 52 female employees from a variety of positions. They asked the women about their experiences combining breastfeeding and work, as well as their access to private rooms, breast pumps and lactation consultants.
Nearly 79% of respondents said they had a private space at work to express milk. About two-thirds had break time to breastfeed. But lactation consultants and breast pumps were less common.
A little effort by employers could correct that, said Padilla, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior at the university.
"Designate a person who is responsible for making sure that women who are preparing for the birth of their baby understand what resources they have available to them when they return to work," she suggested. This could be a supervisor, human resources director of a mentor.
Employers need to make it easier for women to work and raise young children. "It shouldn't be a choice of one or the other," Padilla said.
"According to the most recent Workplace Health in America Survey, we're now seeing about 46% of worksites are offering some sort of health promotion programming, but only 8% offer lactation resources," she said, calling that "a crucial part of work-life balance, especially for new mothers."
The study was published recently in the journal Workplace Health & Safety.
The Office on Women's Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on breastfeeding.