Here's why it's important to support your breastfeeding co-workers

July 11, 2018 by Sarina Gleason, Michigan State University
Joanne Goldbort, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Michigan State University, collaborated with Texas Christian University on a study that indicates support from female co-workers may be even more important to new moms who are breastfeeding than getting encouragement from their significant others, close friends and relatives. Credit: Michigan State University

Support from female co-workers may be even more important to new moms who are breastfeeding than getting encouragement from their significant others, close friends and relatives, says a new study.

According to Michigan State University and Texas Christian University researchers, the more support women receive from their colleagues, the more successful they are in believing they can continue breastfeeding. While support from family or friends is important, surprisingly, co-worker support has a stronger effect.

The study, now published in the journal Health Communication, is the first to focus specifically on the effect female co-workers have on colleagues who want to continue breastfeeding by pumping milk at work.

"In order to empower women to reach their goals and to continue breastfeeding, it's critical to motivate all co-workers by offering verbal encouragement and practical help," said Joanne Goldbort, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at MSU, who collaborated with lead author Jie Zhuang at TCU.

According to Zhuang, people may assume that women in the workplace automatically encourage one another, but that often may not be the case.

The study surveyed 500 working mothers. Eighty-one individuals indicated they had never breastfed, and 80 had stopped before returning to work. Of those who continued breastfeeding after returning to work, more than half chose not to stick with it between the first and sixth month. While the specific reasons participants stopped weren't tracked in the study, it did measure their thoughts and feelings around co-worker perception and stigma, as well as how uncomfortable they were about pumping milk at work.

Overall, the data suggested that the act of simply returning to work played a major role in their decision to quit breastfeeding but receiving colleague support was instrumental to those who continued.

The research also showed that more than a quarter of the women who originally decided to breastfeed made the decision because their place of employment created a helpful environment, such as providing a place to pump. Around 15 percent said they chose to continue breastfeeding after returning to work because they had co-workers or supervisors who directly motivated them to do so.

Goldbort indicated that multiple variables could play into why co-worker support is viewed as equally important, if not more important, to working moms.

"One factor could be that simply spending the majority of their time during the day with co-workers necessitates more support for breastfeeding success," she said. "In the workplace, a breastfeeding woman's dependence on this is higher because she has to work collegially with co-workers, gain their support to assist with the times she's away from her desk, and ultimately try to lessen the 'you get a break and I don't' stigma."

Recently, the United States opposed the World Health Assembly's resolution to promote the use of breast milk over formula. This runs counter to years of research that shows breastfeeding has significant nutritional benefits for babies and their development. It also has many advantages for the mother. Yet the number of moms who choose to continue to breastfeed in the U.S. remains lower than health organization recommendations.

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest exclusive breastfeeding for the first six to 12 months and then continuing with supplementary feeding of solid foods up to two years of age or longer.

"If women know that co-workers and supervisors will them in their efforts, it can make a big difference," Goldbort said. "It really takes a village to breastfeed a baby."

Explore further: Work climate contributes significantly to working moms' decision to breastfeed

Related Stories

Work climate contributes significantly to working moms' decision to breastfeed

March 9, 2016
Breastfeeding is healthy for baby and for Mom. It has a positive impact on childhood obesity, infections and allergies, is linked to a lower likelihood of mothers getting ovarian or breast cancers later in life and to a more ...

Making breastfeeding best for women working outside the home

February 29, 2016
The health advantages of exclusive breastfeeding have been documented and reported for both mothers and children. According to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nationally 79 percent of infants ...

Research reveals why obese mothers less likely to breastfeed

March 27, 2018
Obese women are less likely to breastfeed according to a review of 20 research papers by health psychologists and midwives from The University of Manchester.

Overcoming workplace barriers to breastfeeding—review and recommendations in The Nurse Practitioner

March 23, 2017
For mothers of new infants, going back to work may pose a number of obstacles to continued breastfeeding. Workplace policies affecting the ability to breastfeed—and the role of nurse practitioners (NPs) in helping to overcome ...

Researchers partner with moms to overcome breastfeeding obstacles

May 3, 2018
The message, "breast is best" may be familiar and powerful, but it's not enough to get some women to breastfeed. A new University of Rochester Medical Center project creates a partnership with mothers who are not likely to ...

Exclusive breastfeeding in hospital associated with longer breastfeeding duration

March 12, 2018
New findings from AllerGen's CHILD Study show that exclusive breastfeeding during the first few days of life is positively associated with longer-term breastfeeding, while in-hospital formula use is associated with breastfeeding ...

Recommended for you

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

Effect of oral alfacalcidol on clinical outcomes in patients without secondary hyperparathyroidism

December 11, 2018
Treatment with active vitamin D did not decrease cardiovascular events in kidney patients undergoing hemodialysis, according to a research group in Japan. They have reported their research results in the December 11 issue ...

Licence to Swill: James Bond's drinking over six decades

December 10, 2018
He may be licensed to kill but fictional British secret service agent James Bond has a severe alcohol use disorder, according to an analysis of his drinking behaviour published in the Medical Journal of Australia's Christmas ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.