Before a variety of baby formulas lined the shelves at the supermarket, there was breast milk.
As more and more mothers are choosing to return to the days of breast-feeding infants, the federal government has made it easier for them to do so and stay employed.
In a recent update to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers with more than 50 employees are required to provide a private space and break time for a nursing mother to express milk. The amendments also stipulate “private space” must be something other than a bathroom.
“Most employers have been surprisingly understanding to nursing mothers,” said Margaret Hulsey, Northeast Georgia Medical Center lactation consultant. “I think most have figured out that they have fewer claims on their insurance when babies are healthier through (consumption of) breast milk.
“That’s not to say that every occupation allows you to easily drop
everything to pump. There are some areas — like nursing and teaching — that have schedules that can make it difficult to take a break.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nationwide about 74 percent of babies have been breast-fed; in Georgia, about 63 percent have been breast-fed. The center also reports that at least 28 percent of Georgia mothers are exclusively breast-feeding, meaning there is no consumption of baby formula, for the first three months of their babies’ lives.
Although the laws recently changed, some local employers say they already had breast-feeding policies in place. Medical center staff say policies there have been around since the early 1980s.
Even with policies in place, some employers say there hasn’t been a need to pull out rule books.
“We frequently have new mothers, who are still breast-feeding, return to work and (need to express milk). These individuals can work out a schedule with their building-level administrator,” said Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent. “However, our experience has been that our new mothers plan well ahead to get on a schedule that fits into their lunch break or planning time, if needed.”
To expedite the process, some breast-feeding mothers may want to invest in an electric breast pump.
“A mom can get done in about 15 minutes if she has a double, electric pump. A lot of them even come with a cooler pack, so you don’t need refrigerator access,” Hulsey said. “A lot of people may want to check their insurance policies because there are some that are covering the cost of an electric pump.”
Some local employers like area insurance agencies and factories have even invested in an electric breast pump for employee use, Hulsey said.
If mothers or employers can’t afford to purchase a breast pump, one can be rented from the medical center’s lactation center on Jesse Jewel Parkway.
“Breast-feeding has really come a long way over the years,” Hulsey said. “Technology has made it a lot easier for moms and their babies.”