Boardrooms and Breastfeeding: Why Do We Make It So Hard For Women to Nurse?

Lauren didn’t know how she was going to feed her four-month-old, Charlye.

As a working mother, that is actively nursing, she was worried about maintaining her intense travel schedule – twice a month for up to a week at a time – as a master learning facilitator and figuring out when and where to pump breastmilk.

“My boss is so supportive, but he has no clue, honestly. He’s in Ohio, the bank’s headquarters, and I’m in Charlotte. It’s impossible for him to know rooms and schedules for every branch I travel to,” Lauren says, as she settles into her office chair.

Today marks the beginning of her fourth week back from maternity leave. Next month she’s flying to the Atlanta branch of the national bank she works for to facilitate a new mortgage training.

It turns out a lot of the branches she’s scheduled to train don’t have designated pumping rooms, including Atlanta. This time she would only be gone a few days, so she was able to build a reserve of milk, but what about the week-long trips? How was she going to get milk to Charlye then?

Moreover, how was breastfeeding while leading a regulations training going to work? Several nursing moms use the space that’s available which is always subject to change. She would need to coordinate training breaks around the pumping room’s availability.

Lauren’s breastfeeding challenge continues at her home office because there aren’t designated rooms there either. The bank’s headquarters have nursing mothers rooms and they’re proactively working towards providing this accommodation throughout their other locations.

Unsupportive Work Policies Prevent Breasfeeding

Most working women who nurse experience some version of Lauren’s struggle: a tug of war between their career and feeding their child. It’s a challenge even in the best of circumstances; Lauren’s boss and colleagues support her, she has generous maternity benefits and flexibility.

But none of these things were going to take care of feeding Charlye.

The majority of professional working mothers of infants breastfeed. Eighty-one percent of women begin nursing at birth; that’s more than eight in 10 mothers. But only half, around 52 percent, are still breastfeeding at six months of age, which is the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended minimum.

One of the top reasons for that 29 percent drop is unsupportive work policies.

Benefit Solutions

Lauren and her family!

All the perks in the world can’t substitute for programs and services that help working mothers navigate the complicated process of breastfeeding.

In Lauren’s case, it took cross-department coordination on a national level to feed Charlye. Luckily, her maternity benefits include a maternity concierge program.

“Jessica [the maternity concierge] made sure my baby was fed!” Lauren says with a sigh of relief.

The maternity program secures pumping accommodations for each branch Lauren visits, and they walked her through the logistics of setting up a delivery service to have her milk flown home.

“Without the program, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to navigate this. I feel comfortable reaching out to Jessica. She’s always on top of everything, and there is no judgment,” Lauren says.

Lauren’s experience is helping future working moms at her organization.

“Jessica and I ended up connecting with a person on the bank’s property management team who said moving forward [designated] nursing rooms will be a requirement. Bringing light to this issue is actually helping other working moms!”

There can be barriers to breastfeeding, but work shouldn’t be one of them. Providing maternity benefits that include nursing programs and services is an effective and scalable initiative to attract and retain working moms.