XENIA — When Elizabeth Varvel found out she was pregnant with her fifth child last year, she didn’t like the idea of having to be separated from her new baby in order to return to her job as a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Helper at Greene County Public Health.
As an experienced breastfeeding mother, she had no doubt that she would breastfeed her new son. But she also knew that breastfeeding mothers and babies belong together and that breastfeeding is easier when mother and baby are together.
Employment often creates roadblocks for breastfeeding. According to numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016, 58.1 percent of mothers with infants under one year old are employed.
A 2006 study revealed that mothers who were employed were less than half as likely to be breastfeeding their infants at six months compared to mothers who were not employed.
Employed mothers may find it challenging to meet the Healthy People 2020 breastfeeding goals set by the US Department of Health and Human Services of 81.9 percent of mothers and babies initiating breastfeeding and 60.6 percent still breastfeeding at six months old. Workplace breastfeeding support can be vitally important to increase the percentage of mothers and babies who are successful at breastfeeding.
Fortunately for Varvel and baby Andrew, the Greene County Board of Health took recent steps to update and approve a series of policies and procedures, including a Breastfeeding Policy for employees who are new mothers
As a public health agency, Greene County Public Health recognizes the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and infants. The purpose of the policy is to promote a breastfeeding-friendly work environment that recognizes mothers’ responsibilities to their jobs and their infants, and reduces barriers to breastfeeding once the employee returns to work. The policy also ensures compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, protecting an employee’s right to break time to express milk in the work place.
According to Health Commissioner Melissa Branum, “The health district encourages employees and management to have a positive, accepting attitude toward working mothers whose babies are being breastfed.
The policy encourages mothers to breastfeed by providing guidance for a breastfed infant-at-work program and also allows employees to express breast milk during the work day for up to 18 months after birth of the child.
The health district’s Breastfed Infant-at-Work program encourages new mothers to return to work sooner by allowing them to bring their infant to work with them until the child is 180 days old or begins to crawl, whichever comes first. This portion of the policy acknowledges that when a breastfed infant is able to stay with the mother, this benefits the family, the employer, and society.
Varvel was delighted that the new breastfeeding policy was approved in time for her to bring Andrew to work when she returned from maternity leave in February.
“Going back to work after Andrew’s birth was so much easier knowing I was able to bring him with me. As an exclusively breastfeeding mother, I know it’s important to feed him when he is hungry and I am able to do that with him always with me,” she said.
Elizabeth’s co-workers love having a baby at work.
“It brightens all of our days to see Andrew’s sweet little face every day,” said Varvel’s supervisor, WIC Director, Tonja Lively. “We’re all going to be sad when he turns six months old and can’t come to work anymore!”
Varvel spends much of her work days talking with WIC’s pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, who enjoy seeing Andrew too.
“Elizabeth is a great role model to our WIC participants for how portable a breastfed baby is and how easy it can be to breastfeed while accomplishing many other daily tasks,” says Nancy Cohen, WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator.
Public Health officials encourage other Greene County businesses and organizations to implement a similar policy in the workplace to benefit their employees. For more information on breastfeeding and the breastfeeding policy, contact Greene County Public Health at 937-374-5600.
Story courtesy of Greene County Public Health.