The Key to Breastfeeding Success Is Coworker Support, Study Says

It may be even more important than support from your partner.
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By Ashley Edwards Walker, Contributing Writer
Published July 12, 2018

As every mom knows, breastfeeding is no easy task. As if nailing the latch, encouraging your supply and dealing with problems like engorgement and clogged ducts wasn’t enough, once moms head back to work, they have to pause to pump multiple times a day. Which is why new moms need encouragement to help see them through it, from family, friends and significant others—but especially, a study found, from their coworkers.

Researchers from Michigan State University and Texas Christian University found the more support breastfeeding moms receive from their colleagues, the more successful they are in believing they can continue breastfeeding. They even went so far as to say that support from colleagues can be even more crucial than from your partner.

“One factor could be that simply spending the majority of their time during the day with coworkers necessitates more support for breastfeeding success,” Joanne Goldbort, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at MSU and one of the study authors, said of the findings. “In the workplace, a breastfeeding woman’s dependence on this is higher because she has to work collegially with coworkers, 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.”

Of the 500 surveyed working mothers, 81 said they never breastfed and 80 stopped breastfeeding before going back to work. Of the remaining 399 women, more than half quit breastfeeding within one to six months after returning to work. To figure out why, researchers measure participants’ impressions of how their coworkers viewed them and the stigmas associated with breastfeeding, as well as how comfortable the women felt pumping milk at their office.

They found that more than a quarter of the women who decided to continue nursing after heading back to work did so because they knew their workplace was breastfeeding-friendly and provided a place for them to pump. In fact, around 15 percent of the new moms said they continued breastfeeding because they had coworkers and/or supervisors who directly motivated them to do so. And we’re not talking about the blaise “you can do it!’ type of affirmations here—we’re talking about the kind of positive reinforcement that reassures new moms their need to pump isn’t going to be viewed as slacking off on the job.

“If women know that coworkers and supervisors will support them in their breastfeeding efforts, it can make a big difference,” Goldbort said. “It really takes a village to breastfeed a baby.”

Expecting to head back to work soon? Check out these tips from moms for breastfeeding when you’re back in the office.

Model (top photo): Rachel Nicks

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