The United States is behind the rest of the world when it comes to family leave. It’s one of the only developed countries that doesn’t guarantee paid leave for new mothers, and 40 percent of U.S. workers don’t qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
These factors can make life difficult for the large part of the U.S. workforce now made of working mothers. Not surprisingly, that number has only increased with time. For example, according to an examination of US Census records conducted by Ancestry.com, in 1860, 7.5 percent of mothers were in the workforce. In 2010? 67 percent. That’s an 800 percent increase.
Good news for mothers and fathers: more states in the U.S. are passing paid family leave legislation, including California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York.
I researched this material for a completely different article, and where this issue ended, another one began. That is, once a new mother transitions back to work after however much time she was able to take off or wanted to take off, what challenges might she face in that transition?
I spoke with someone about ways that companies can support new mothers. Kate Schraml is the consumer communications and public relations manger at Medela, a company dedicated to successfully helping new mothers breastfeed. The company launched its Medela at Work initiative, an online resource for moms returning to work and for the employers taking them back.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 79 percent of moms breastfeed after birth, but only 39 percent do after three months, when women usually go back to work. Schraml offered some suggestions to support new mothers and prevent this drop, considering the health benefits associated with breastfeeding.
She suggested that companies create a company culture that celebrates and embraces the working mom, perhaps by allowing flexible work arrangements or creating affinity groups. Also important: conversation.
“One of the conversations that always happens is the pre-leave parental leave conversation,” Schraml said. “But also having that conversation in preparation of them returning to work is an opportunity employers can use as a chance to reconnect with employees as they prepare to come back and to go over options and what they need in support.”
Also important to consider is setting aside space specifically for new mothers to pump. Not only is this a nice way to show support, it’s also a legal requirement for companies over a certain size nationwide. Meanwhile, other laws related to breastfeeding and new mothers vary by state (see page 3, exhibit 1).
Medela offers resources like a state-by-state map of laws, an interactive pump bag so that mothers know what they need, a back-to-work checklist, and a list of tips for talking to an employer about breastfeeding. For employers, it has an interactive sample pumping room so that a company knows exactly what it needs to provide.
“We want to make sure that moms have a successful relationship with breastfeeding that they want to achieve when they transition back to work,” said Schraml. “That’s the heart of this. It’s beneficial to the mom and baby and also the employer.”
Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.