Breastfeeding in the Workplace a Public Health Issue

    the authors
    Michele Vancour, a professor of public health, and Michele Griswold, a graduate of Southern’s public health master’s program as well as a nurse and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

    When a breastfeeding mother returns to work, her separation from her infant can disrupt breastfeeding, and many workplaces lack policies and procedures to support mothers who wish to continue nursing their babies. According to Michele Vancour and Michele Griswold, such policies don’t exist just to cater to families — they are good for business by contributing to greater employee satisfaction and retention. Yet many working mothers stop breastfeeding because of the barriers they encounter in the workplace.

    Breastfeeding Best PracticesIn their new book Breastfeeding Best Practices in Higher Education, Vancour, a professor of public health, and Griswold, a graduate of Southern’s public health master’s program as well as a nurse and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), examine breastfeeding and the workplace as a public health issue. They address the need for support of breastfeeding on university campuses; describe best practices as implemented at several U.S. higher education institutions and provide examples of how college and universities can work toward becoming more supportive of breastfeeding among employees and students.

    Both Griswold and Vancour have expertise on the topic of breastfeeding, both as a health issue and as a workplace issue. Griswold chairs the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition, and Vancour is on the board. Griswold’s master’s thesis looked at breastfeeding in the pediatric primary care setting, and she has worked as a lactation consultant in a primary care setting. Vancour was Griswold’s thesis adviser and has long researched and written on work/life balance. She was an advocate for the university establishing a lactation space on campus, where nursing mothers can pump in private when away from their infants. Such a room was eventually made available in Connecticut Hall.

    Vancour knew from her research that colleges and universities were an area where lactation support was lacking. National public policy initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act have put out guidelines requiring workplaces to have more supports in place for breastfeeding mothers, so Vancour and Griswold decided to collaborate on a book that would look specifically at such support in the higher education setting. They say it should serve as a useful resource to those who are working to bring their workplaces into alignment with such policies.

    “In the book, we place breastfeeding in a larger context – why it is important for both mothers and children. It’s good for our country’s future – breastfed babies grow up healthier,” says Griswold. She points out that breastfeeding can help to prevent childhood obesity, ear infections, colds and flu. And for mothers, it can protect against breast and ovarian cancers. Premature infants do much better when they are fed their mothers’ milk.

    Vancour says she has always been a big proponent of best practices, and the book focuses on six institutions that she and Griswold believe have created environments that support breastfeeding: George Washington University, the University of Rhode Island, the University of California Davis, the University of Arizona, Michigan State University and Johns Hopkins University.

    Vancour and Griswold say that for an institution to become fully supportive of their employees who are breastfeeding, a paradigm shift is required: a move from thinking about the company to thinking about how to support employees – which in turn is good for the company.