FULTON - For working mothers with newborns the decision to breastfeed their baby is challenging. For some it’s a lack of flexibility in their work schedule to express milk, for others it may be a non-supportive environment that lacks accommodations to pump or store milk.
The Rural Health Network of Oswego County, under the auspices of Oswego County Opportunities (OCO), is working to remove those barriers and has partnered with REACH CNY’s Maternal Infant Community Health Collaborative (MICHC) to help businesses and organizations establish lactation rooms for its employees.
The initiative began when The Rural Health Network and REACH CNY hosted a Lactation Room Lunch and Learn this past November. “Businesses and organizations were invited to come and learn about the benefits of having a lactation room in the workplace for their employees, the public, or both,” said Leanna Cleveland, Coordinator of Community Health for the Rural Health Network. “As a result of the lunch and learn local businesses were given the opportunity to apply for a $500 grant for the development of their own lactation rooms.”
Cleveland, along with Virginia Bough of the Rural Health Network, and MICHC Coordinator Amanda Barbara reviewed the applications and funding was granted through the Population Health Improvement Program. Organizations receiving the grants were encouraged to pass a policy on breastfeeding in the workplace. The lactation rooms were established with the goal of increasing breastfeeding rates and provide employer support for employees that are breastfeeding.
“Studies show that many women stop breastfeeding when they return to work due to not having space and/or support from their employer,” said Cleveland. “Our goal was to give businesses and organizations what they needed to provide a breastfeeding friendly space for their employees.”
The benefits of breastfeeding are far reaching. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention breastfeeding mothers benefit from a lower risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. For the baby, health benefits of breastfeeding include colostrum, which helps the digestive system to grow and function, and receiving the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein that babies need. Additionally, breastfeeding lowers the baby’s risk of asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal infections, ear and respiratory infections, and SIDS, all while increasing the bond between mother and child.
“Having lactation rooms at the workplace provides also provides a significant number of benefits to businesses and organizations,” added Cleveland. According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee:
• Breastfeeding employees miss work less often because breastfed infants are healthier.
• Breastfeeding lowers health care costs.
• Breastfeeding support helps employers keep their best employees so that less money is spent hiring and training new employees.
• Breastfeeding employees who are supported in the workplace report higher productivity and loyalty.
• Supporting breastfeeding employees creates a positive public image.
• Overall worksite wellness.
To date the Rural Health Network has established lactation rooms at the Cayuga Community College campus in Fulton, Mother Earth Baby in Oswego, OCO’s WIC office in Oswego, and at the Oswego County Health Department in Oswego. Plans are currently underway for the establishment of additional lactation rooms in the near future.
Cleveland has worked closely with organizations and businesses to create policies that ensure the sustainability of the room, including support in the work environment, raising awareness of the lactation room, promoting accessibility, and encouraging its use.
Each lactation room is designed to create a warm and comfortable environment for mothers to express breast milk. The rooms include a comfortable chair, side table, appropriate lighting, a refrigerator to store the breast milk and access to a clean water supply.
“We’re excited to spearheading such a worthwhile project,” said Cleveland. “Increasing the knowledge of the health benefits of breastfeeding and encouraging support for breastfeeding helps to create a positive environmental change for our communities.”
Operating under the auspices of Oswego County Opportunities, Inc., the Rural Health Network is a consortium of health care providers and human service providers in Oswego County. Working together the members take a collaborative approach to addressing major health issues that exist in Oswego County. For more information on the Rural Health Network of Oswego County visit www.oco.org.