University Study Examines Workplace Obstacles for Breastfeeding Mothers

It’s has become widely accepted that breastfeeding is beneficial to both mother and baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continuation of breastfeeding for 12 months or longer. Yet, new mothers, particularly those that must return to work shortly after giving birth, face many barriers in the ability to breastfeed or to pump breast milk for their babies.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Houston surveyed nearly 900 women who had recently returned to work after giving birth. The survey measured womens’ intention to breastfeed their child, the workplace climate and the presence of ‘instrumental breastfeeding support,” like sufficient break times, lactation rooms, and refrigerators to store expressed breast milk.  The results showed that just over 300 of these women managed to continue breastfeeding for a year. Only seven continued breastfeeding exclusively for the U.S. government-recommended six months.

christianespitzmuller250Christiane Spitzmueller, associate professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Houston and lead author of the study, stated that “things like having a refrigerator to store expressed breast milk or having space to pump breast milk are really helpful, but in our study the support for those wasn’t as we might expect.”

The study found that women with a supportive supervisor were eight times more likely to continue exclusive breastfeeding than women with a non-supportive supervisor.

“When women are at work they’re perceived as employees and their career identity is the priority, rather than their identity as a woman and as a mother. When a woman needs to pump breast milk, that immediately emphasizes her maternal and non-workplace role as over her career role,” Spitzmueller said. “Workplaces have become fairer, but when there are competing life demands I don’t think we’ve been as successful as we could be or should be.”

Dr. Spitzmueller joined the faculty at the University of Houston in 2003. She holds a Ph.D. in industrial and organization psychology from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

The article, “Got Milk? Workplace Factors Related to Breastfeeding Among Working Mothers,” has been published on the website of the Journal of Organizational Behavior. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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