Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A metric for workplace environment culture: How long do mothers nurse?

If you think you have a positive culture at work for families, how would you measure it? One might be to determine how long, on average, the mothers of young children nurse their children. The workplace environment has a significant impact on the nursing relationship (availability of lactation rooms, flexibility in scheduling, maternity leave policies, etc).

There is a lot of literature showing that women tend to persist in nursing when they have peers who are doing the same. So, a lactation room, beyond just providing the legally required space for pumping milk, provides a networking location for your employees.

Approximately 17 months ago I began pumping milk at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the lactation room there. At that time, my daughter was about two months old and there were several other women with older babies pumping milk. Over the last 19 months, women have had babies and joined the room. I see them logging in day after day. Now something interesting is happening. People are continuing to pump milk up to the year mark and beyond. This means women are not rotating out of the room as new ones come in. Within the next week, a second lactation room will be opened in our building to prepare for two more women to come off maternity leave.

We have three women pumping milk for children over a year old right now! Knowing how rare that is in the U.S. right now I would take it as a very positive indicator of the success of our lactation program and therefore of how good our workplace environment is for mothers of young children.

It is smart for institutions to be supportive in this way. Babies who receive breastmilk get sick less often and less severely and there is thus less absenteeism. Nursing is a source of comfort that provides a very fast means of emotional reconnection between mother and child at the end of a work day. Happier employees make happier bosses, right?

So, if you’re wondering how to make your workplace environment family-friendly, invest time, energy and resources into having a great lactation room, like my institution did.