Health officials have long promoted the benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and mothers alike.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 70 percent of Missouri mothers prefer breastfeeding to formula feeding their infants. But many women returning to the workforce after having a child feel unable to continue breastfeeding due to limited time and space.
Here in Lincoln County, where women make up almost 60 percent of the workforce, the Lincoln County Health Department is promoting a statewide program to make the workplace more breastfeeding friendly.
Mercy Hospital Lincoln is the second business to be recognized for becoming a Breastfeeding friendly worksite.
Mercy achieved the Gold level in the new program. Mercy currently serves the health care needs of Lincoln and surrounding counties. Mercy Hospital Lincoln is backed by an experienced medical staff and team that cares for people, not illnesses in the communities it serves.
“Many of our co-worker moms like to maintain breastfeeding in a comfortable, private setting after they’ve returned to work,” said Mary Kay Kunza, human resources manager. The majority of Mercy Lincoln co-workers are women, many of whom are new mothers, that’s why we proactively support co-workers, providing time, space and other benefits to maintain breastfeeding after a mom returns to work.”
The Department of Health and Senior Services created the Missouri Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite Program in 2013. The program educates companies about nursing employees’ needs and rewards those businesses that implement policies and amenities to accommodate them. There are bronze, silver, and gold levels of participation in the program. To meet the most basic requirements, however, employers must only provide a verbal policy agreement about when and where nursing mothers can express milk. A private secure area to do so (other than a bathroom) and flexible 15-20 minute breaks throughout the day whether paid or unpaid.
Renee Headrick, the breastfeeding peer counselor for WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), has been working hard to get the word out among employers regarding the program and its benefits.
“A lot of employers have these kinds of policies in place already, but they’re not aware of the breastfeeding friendly program and they’re not getting rewarded for it,” Headrick said.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is offering up to $500 to a limited number of Missouri employers to create or improve their lactation support policies and programs. For example, funds may be used for locks on doors, privacy screens/partitions, comfortable chair, table or other flat surface to hold a breast pump, or signs. To be eligible to receive a mini-grant, the employer must submit their breastfeeding support policy which must be in compliance with the breastfeeding support requirements from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). To apply, please contact Renee Headrick at the Lincoln County Health Department, 636-528-6117, for more information on the application and budget. The deadline to submit the application is Sept. 1.
At the health department, Headrick can provide resources and information to help companies get started in the program.
She said the most difficult issue for employers is making sure that women have sufficient breaks to express milk.
“The real issue is time,” she said. “You can put a room together, but if you’re not really supporting it with break times, they can’t take advantage of the room being available.”
Headrick said that receiving the award for being a breastfeeding friendly worksite makes companies more attractive to potential employees. “It allows companies to really highlight that they have these resources available, and makes for a better business,” she said.
Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2017 by Truven, an IBM Watson Health company, serves millions annually.
Mercy includes 44 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.