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New Efforts to Support Working Mothers

Valerie Jarrett talks about the Obama Administration's recent actions to support women who choose to breastfeed.

The overwhelming majority of women today choose to breastfeed their baby. Breastfeeding provides significant health benefits to children including reduced risk for sudden infant death syndrome, childhood leukemia, ear infections and childhood obesity. For mothers, breastfeeding can reduce their risk for certain cancers and diabetes. While breastfeeding is recommended for most infants, choosing to breastfeed is a personal choice and not a viable alternative for all mothers and babies. 

Today, the White House Council on Women and Girls is announcing new efforts aimed at supporting women who choose to and are able to breastfeed. While 75 percent of women initially breastfeed their baby, after six months only 43 percent are still breastfeeding at all. One of the most common reasons mothers cite for discontinuing breastfeeding is returning to work and not having break time or a private space to express milk. Many studies have shown these types of worksite supports help women continue to breastfeed after returning to work.

The recent Affordable Care Act includes a provision championed by Senator Merkley of Oregon that amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide reasonable break times and private space for nursing mothers on the job - other than a bathroom - that is shielded from view and free from intrusion to express breast milk at work, up until a child’s first birthday. 

We know that breastfeeding provides significant health benefits. It also makes good business sense to provide accommodations for women to breastfeed or express milk at work. Several employers have experienced cost savings and increased productivity from having breastfeeding support programs because parenting employees miss fewer workdays. One-day absences to care for sick children occur more than twice as often for mothers of formula-feeding infants.  Employers can also reduce health care costs. It is estimated that for every 1,000 babies not breastfed, there are an extra 2,033 physician visits, 212 days in the hospital and 609 prescriptions. And finally, worksite lactation programs have shown to reduce employee turnover.

Women are now nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, the majority of undergraduate and graduate school enrollees, and in  two-thirds of families mothers are either the primary or co-breadwinner. A workplace that facilitates women in their roles as workers and mothers not only contributes to the health of children and families, but is imperative for the overall health and security of the American economy. We are proud to support mothers who make the decision to breastfeed and we need to do all that we can to support them.

To learn more about what the Obama Administratoin's efforts aimed at supporting women who choose to and are able to breastfeed please read the following fact sheet: Obama Administration Actions to Support Women Who Choose to Breastfeed.

Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.