Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Break Time for Nursing Mothers

If you've been reading this blog since last year, you would know that along with several officemates, we were able to establish 2 lactation rooms at my office and that we are currently working on a policy. To document our efforts, I wrote a multi-part post starting with this. Yesterday, I received an email from Nanay Ines about a news report on the US federal law - "Break Time for Nursing Mothers", which was signed last 23 March 2010. This law "requires companies with at least 50 employees to provide reasonable time and a private space - not a bathroom - to pump milk until the baby is a year old." Interestingly, although the law is almost 1 year old, the US Labor Department has yet to draft guidelines and is still seeking comments from the public until today, 22 February 2011.

We have our own law - Republic Act No. 10028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 which was signed into law by President GMA last 16 March 2010. However, like the US law, guidelines have yet to be released as the implementing rules and regulations (although already drafted and completed) are still sitting on Department of Health Sec. Enrique Ona's desk for more than 4 months now.
Anyway, working moms have been asking me for tips on how to establish their own lactation program in their workplace. The Chicago Tribune article shared by Nanay Ines has an excellent summary which I'd like to share with my comments:

Check your state law first. Some states provide greater protection for breastfeeding mothers, such as requiring companies to offer break time beyond one year after the child's birth. Those greater protections override the federal law.
As mentioned above, for the Philippines, we have the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act. Some employees are lucky since their employers took the initiative and set up lactation rooms/policies even before the law was enacted. However, some are not so lucky as their employers keep saying that they are still waiting for the implementing rules and regulations to be released before acting. So if any of you dear readers know Sec. Ona or someone who works for him (or even P-Noy), please give Sec. Ona a push or a hint on the necessity of having his signature on that IRR.

Ask while you're pregnant, not when you return from maternity leave. This gives your employer time to figure out the best way to accommodate you, says Berggren of WorkAndPump. That works out for both parties; your boss won't be pressed for time, and you'll have what you need when you return to work.
I always suggest that moms scope our their work place before going back to work. You can do this while you're pregnant or even while you're already on maternity leave. Just take some time to go back to your office and look for an accessible room to express milk and options where you can store your milk.

Write an e-mail before discussing it in person. Cathy Carothers, president of the International Lactation Consultant Association, who helps businesses create breastfeeding-friendly environments, says employers often appreciate a written request from an employee before talking about her needs during a face-to-face meeting. That prevents catching the boss off-guard, which is particularly helpful when the boss or employee might be uncomfortable with the topic.
This is something you can do before your leave or while you are on leave. Sometimes, just a plain email will work. This is what happened in my workplace. A group of employees sent an email to the head of the group handling resources on the need for a lactation room. We didn't have any meeting set anymore. After that email, things started happening ;)

Ask nicely rather than demanding your rights. "Employers don't like people threatening them with the law," Carothers says. "So I'd encouraged the mother not to say, 'It's the law, you have to do this for me.'" Instead, try something like, "I'd like to talk to you about some ways to work together to make this work," she says. "That approach gets women much farther."
As I always tell moms, you can't expect your employers to read your minds and know what you will need as a breastfeeding working mother. Although a law has been passed, I do agree that you have to start by asking nicely. The law only requires a maximum of 40 minutes milk expression time for each 8-hour period which I find to be insufficient. By asking nicely, you might be able to get more milk expression time than that granted by the law. If you spout the law provisions immediately, then your time and other privileges will be at a minimum - just enough for the employer to comply.

Consider the greater good. You're not the only woman who needs to pump at work, so remember that making the request might help others, too. "Each time that somebody asks, we're opening the door for even more moms and more children to be able to do the same thing," says Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising.
This especially helps since you can use this benefit/privilege as a come-on for your employer to be able to recruit better employees.

Explain how your ability to breastfeed could benefit the business. Show your boss what the company gains from making it feasible for you to pump during the day. Supporters of the nursing-at-work law say it decreases the company's healthcare costs and cuts down on mothers' sick days because breastfed babies tend to be healthier than bottle-fed infants. It can also improve employee loyalty and decrease turnover because workers appreciate being able to balance their work responsibilities with family life.
Explain breastfeeding benefits to your employer and if possible to your fellow employees. Breastfeeding not only benefits the baby or the mom but also the employer like BIR tax breaks.

Show that you're flexible. If your employer is concerned about decreased productivity, offer to come in early or stay late to make up the time, Carothers says. Make it clear that this will help you continue to be a great employee.
Be efficient. No extended lunch breaks or idle chit-chats ;)

If need be, reference the law. If you've tried the strategies above and your employer won't budge, maybe it's time to mention the law. Make sure you understand how it applies to you so you can accurately explain your right to pump at work.
When all else fails, quote the law - R.A. No. 10028.

Don't forget to claim your tax break. Breast pumps qualify as a healthcare expense, the Internal Revenue Service ruled recently. That means you can use pre-tax money from your flexible health spending account to cover your pump and supplies.

Oops! I don't think this applies to us but I'm sure that your employer will enjoy the BIR tax breaks.

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