By Karen Stokes
Women with children are the fastest growing segment of the work force. There are approximately 70 percent of women in the United States employed and working full-time with children younger than three years old, according to the Center of Disease Control.
Last week the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) held their monthly Community Breastfeeding Gathering. This month they focused on Child Care and Workplace Support of Breastfeeding. The class was held at Parklawn YMCA, 4340 N 46th St.
The AABN offers classes and support to breastfeeding mothers.
“Breastfeeding changed my life. It changed me as a woman and as a mother,” said Dalvery Blackwell, executive director and co-founder of AABN. “I assumed all mothers breastfed, then I began to read and heard that mothers did not breastfeed in our community. There was no positive imagery of breastfeeding at the clinics. No posters or literature. I decided that I wanted to do the work so I began working with AABN and I started a coalition in 2008. Our mission is to support and address inequality and disparities around breastfeeding and form partnerships.
The CDC reports that from 2000-2008, the percentage of African American women who initiated breastfeeding went up from 48 percent to 59 percent. In contrast the percentage of whites during the same time was 72 percent to 75 percent.
The benefits of breastfeeding for the mother, baby and business were discussed in the class.
Mothers benefit by saving time and money, weight reduction and the benefits continue throughout their lives by reducing the occurrence of cancer and diabetes. Babies’ benefit by consuming healthy nourishment with milk made exclusively for them, which contains protein, vitamins, minerals and antibodies.
By supporting working mothers, employers get a good return on investment. Businesses benefit by presenting a positive public image and creating loyalty and flexibility for employees. Employees are happier and are more committed to their employer. This is a factor in increasing productivity and decreasing the turnover rate.
The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide lactation programs in the workplace. A federal law requires employees with over 50 employees to provide accommodations for nursing mothers. This includes break times to express milk for her nursing child, and a place other than a bathroom that is shielded from public view and intrusion. The room must also have a working electrical outlet. Blackwell instructed the women to make arrangements with their supervisor while they are still pregnant, before they go on maternity leave, so they would be prepared when they got back to work. She also said to request a flexible schedule and a private room/lactation space to pump milk.
There presently is a Milwaukee ordinance, which allows Milwaukee county employees time to pump milk at work, and have a private place for employees and customers to nurse.
The AABN wants mothers to realize the importance of the father being involved in the baby’s life. The mothers are encouraged to invite fathers to the breastfeeding classes.
“We talk about the importance of the father in raising healthy babies in our meetings,” said Robert Brass, AABN Father Advocate who leads the fatherhood sessions. “We go over communication, partner pampering and things to help the family thrive.
Robert has been married for seven years and he says it feels like one, “Communication is imperative. We work together, play together, we communicate together.”
A new mother who will soon be rejoining the workforce is Brittany Patton. She believes a benefit of the AABN program was improving the relationship with her child’s father after he attended the father session. He has become more involved in parenting.
“I learned more about breastfeeding by attending the classes,” said Patton. “I like it because it’s hands on and I can mingle with other mothers. It’s not only about breastfeeding, they offer relationship advice and just knowledge.”
Blackwell informed the class that if an employer does not comply with the federal law for reasonable break time for nursing mothers they can file a complaint at the Milwaukee area Department of Labor at 414-297-1590.