Sustaining Breastfeeding Together: How a Breastfeeding in the Workplace Program changed everything

Before sharing my story, I want to honor Suzy*, the woman who first championed the workplace breastfeeding program over 10 years ago. Suzy believed that a work-life balance was crucial in helping people reach their full potential. She said one could not give their all to their job if they were not fulfilled at home, and that you could not give your all to your family if you had a job that took all your time and energy. She wanted to give moms every opportunity (and every motivation) to stick with breastfeeding, even in the difficult days. And whether she knew it or not, her belief in this program changed the culture of our workplace.

Here’s how it works: My employer has a policy that allows new mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding to bring their babies with them to work until the baby turns 6 months old.

Before returning to work, all a mother has to do is contact Human Resources who temporarily assigns her one of three designated baby rooms that becomes her office. Facilities staff members transfer the office necessities (computer, filing drawers, phone, etc.) to this space, and the mother brings in whatever items she may need for the baby. Mom and baby come back to work and when baby is hungry, or when baby is napping, mom simply closes the door. Baby goes everywhere mom goes, including meetings and conferences. Then, when baby turns 6 months old, there’s a small graduation celebration to shower baby with love one last time. The mom then has access to a lactation room until baby turns 1.

normalize breastfeeding at work

In honor of Suzy, here are 10 ways a breastfeeding in the workplace policy can make a difference .

  1. Breastfeeding is normalized. On my first day of work at a new job, my boss came around the corner carrying her baby. She introduced herself, and her son, and said, “We have a breastfeeding program here, so he gets to be with me for another month or so.” She then showed me to my desk and continued with my orientation, just as she would’ve if she didn’t have a baby with her. This was the norm. Over the next 2 years, I would see several other women experience pregnancy and return to work with their babies. Occasionally you’d hear a baby cry, but after a while, that sound too, became the norm. For 2 ½ years, I saw moms come to work with their strollers, keep pack and plays in their offices, share their babies with our colleagues, and nurse whenever their babies were hungry. Breastfeeding is a normal part of life, and it is accepted as such, even during the 40 hours we’re all at work each week.
  2. Women are supported throughout pregnancy. Throughout my pregnancy, I was surrounded by women who checked in to see how I was feeling. Not just with a polite, “How are you,” but with a sincere, real, “How are you doing?” There was an openness that allowed for real conversation between moms and expectant mothers. I learned quickly that the group of women I worked with were more than just colleagues; they were already part of the village that would help me raise my baby. This policy had a positive impact before I even had a baby.
  3. New moms have the motivation and incentive to work through the challenges that come with learning how to breastfeed. Nursing was especially challenging for us. Landry was born with a slight tongue tie which required a pediatric dental procedure to fix. Following this, she still needed two weeks of lip rehab to learn to nurse properly. I found myself in an exhausting cycle… lip/tongue rehab, attempt to nurse, pump to boost my supply, give her a bottle of whatever I just pumped, burp her (while she cried and often spit up what I just worked so hard to give her), clean the spit up, wash the pump parts, play for 10 minutes, then put her to sleep. Only to start all over again about two hours later. I was scared that she’d never learn how to nurse. I was lonely, afraid to leave home because I couldn’t nurse anywhere but the couch. I was exhausted. I was scared I couldn’t feed my baby enough. And I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of an opportunity so few women are afforded. People suggested on more than one occasion that it would be okay to ‘just give her formula.’ I wasn’t about to give up. I had this dream of nursing my baby in public, anytime, anywhere, and I had the opportunity to bring her to work! There was no way I was going to just give up because it was hard. This policy gave me hope and a reason to keep working through the struggles.
  4. New moms are supported in their transition back to work. Landry and I had barely figured out nursing when I returned to work after 3 months, and I was greeted by an incredible network of support. Our baby room/office had the sweetest decorations, and my colleagues stopped by to genuinely ask how I was doing. The moms in the division listened and offered reassurance when I was struggling. Bringing my baby to work also allowed me to transition back to full time work, bit by bit. I imagine that having to leave your baby and jump right back into work would be like jumping head first into a pool of ice water in the winter… harsh, numbing, miserable, and isolating. Having Landry with me for 3 months allowed us more time to figure out our routine, I could continue learning her cues, and I was allowed to ease back into technical reading and emails. This policy has created an environment that recognizes how challenging the transition to motherhood can be, and it honors the mother/child relationship. I felt truly valued by my employer.
  5. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Bringing babies to work expands that village. Our entire staff was always willing to play with Landry for a few minutes so I could focus on a task that needed my full concentration. They provided interaction and socialization for her while she was still in the comfort of her mommy’s arms. Our wonderful receptionist would hold Landry on her lap on the days she needed more stimulation than I could give her. She gave her toys, and took her on parade in a silly Rubbermaid box connected to an old phone cord. Coworkers were always willing to lend a hand and allowed me a chance to further ease back into full time work.
  6. Workplace relationships and employee morale are elevated. Male coworkers would stop by to say hello and share stories of when their kids were little. The older ladies would share stories of their grandkids. Having babies on the floor created an unspoken bond between the staff members. There’s a realization that instead of being ‘professional colleagues who send emails and work together on projects,’ you are really all humans with families, good days and bad days, and an opportunity to contribute to one another personally and professionally. I wasn't instantly best friends with everyone, but there’s was a deeper connection that forms when colleagues are a small part of this major transition in a mother’s life. These moments foster a sense of connectedness and give a sense that we’re more than coworkers…. we’re more like family.
  7. Working moms are supported when they have to leave their babies for the first time. When Landry graduated and started daycare, I was again surrounded by moms who offered a hug (and some Kleenex) as I transitioned yet again into working motherhood, this time without my sweet baby girl by my side.
  8. Moms have a built-in support system through every phase of raising their children. There were 2 other newborns on the floor with us. We’d often take breaks and allow the kids to interact a bit, and we’d talk through the questions we were all wondering (how are you going to introduce food? What’s it like when the baby teethes? What have you found that helps with diaper rash?). Having two other moms in nearly the exact same phases I was in was unbelievably helpful. Bringing my baby to work with me was like going to a new mom support group every day. This support system is still intact, even though Landry is 16 months old.
  9. Breastfeeding can be sustained when moms are supported in their efforts to pump. Along with the three baby rooms, our floor has a lactation room, with a chair, and some pumping supplies that were donated by other moms (quick clean wipes, extra steam bags for sterilization, etc.). My supervisor never questioned the frequency with which I pumped, and she was always mindful to schedule meetings around my pumping times. We are still nursing a couple of times each day and I attribute a lot of our success in making it beyond one year to the supportive environment I have to continue pumping, stress-free!
  10. Employees can become advocates. Every time I shared a picture of our mother/daughter workdays on social media I’d receive comments about how wonderful the program seemed. Friends and family would ask about how it works and how it was going, and it instantly created a safe space to talk about breastfeeding. I also had a chance to talk about breastfeeding anytime someone asked what we were doing for child care when I went back to work. Suddenly, it didn’t seem so taboo to talk about nursing, and further yet, there was an openness about it that allowed me to nurse anytime, anywhere, rarely using a cover. This policy has given me a voice I didn’t even know I could have, and it’s allowed me to normalize breastfeeding in my corner of the world. 

The memories of those early months are treasured beyond expression. I will forever be grateful for the additional time I had with Landry, and for the support I received as I navigated the many transitions that accompany becoming a working mom. Having a policy that supports and encourages breastfeeding altered a workplace norm, provided motivation and support through the trying times, and it continues to allow me to embrace working motherhood every day. For more information about infants at work, visit http://azdhs.gov/prevention/nutrition-physical-activity/breastfeeding/infant-at-work/index.php

* Name changed

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Landry would sit on my lap while I read, and she was a great page turner! :) 

Erin Raczynski is a Registered Dietitian who has become an advocate for normalizing breastfeeding. She enjoys coffee and wine, public health policy, the University of Arizona Wildcats, and of course, doing anything and everything with her husband, Adam, their daughter Landry, and their two dogs, Mollie and Wrigley. 



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