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Why breastfeeding accommodation is good for business

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In San Francisco, 75 percent of households with children under the age of six have two working parents, but most of these working mothers stop breastfeeding their babies within six months. (Courtesy photo)
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The benefits of breastfeeding for mother and child are widely established and considered one of the most important preventative care measures for children’s health. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for a year or longer, here in San Francisco, that’s just not happening, especially among working mothers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, mothers are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce. In San Francisco, while 75 percent of households with children under the age of six have two working parents, most of these working mothers stop breastfeeding their babies within six months.

Next week, the Board of Supervisors is expected to consider first-in-the-nation legislation by Supervisor Katy Tang that will set specific space requirements and processes for new moms wishing to pump breast milk in the workplace. And while this is great news for families across The City, it’s also good for business.

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After working closely with Tang and her staff to ensure the business community, including small businesses, can implement the legislation, we’re proud to say the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce supports it.

Current state and federal laws require that employers make a “reasonable effort” to accommodate women who want to lactate, but it’s an ambiguous process without clear guidelines. Women are sometimes left with no options other than to pump in a supply closet, bathroom stall or their car. Often, employers don’t even know it’s an issue they should be addressing.

This legislation is good for working women and their families because it normalizes the need to request and discuss lactation accommodation between employees and employers. That reduces the prospect that women will feel they need to stop breastfeeding in order to return to work.

A clear, consistent workplace policy and access to a clean designated lactation space brings women back into the workplace after having a child, reduces absenteeism for both parents, lowers health care costs and helps attract a talented, skilled and stable workforce that appreciates the benefit.

It also impacts the bottom line. Cigna reported in a two-year study of its employees an annual savings of $240,000 in health care expenses, 62 percent fewer prescriptions and $60,000 in reduced absenteeism rates.

San Francisco imposes many mandates on business, and small businesses are especially sensitive to their impacts. The Chamber worked closely with Supervisor Tang and our small business partners to make sure small businesses who don’t have the space or resources to create new lactation accommodations would have time and flexibility to implement the ordinance. We want our small businesses to succeed, and we know that most already provide accommodations when asked to do so by employees.

The legislation also requires construction of lactation areas in new or renovated commercial properties. We worked with our partners in the building and construction industries to make sure the amount of lactation spaces would be appropriate for the number of women working onsite at any given time who would need them. It doesn’t benefit anyone, or our carbon footprint, to build rooms that sit empty most of the time. We also ensured the spaces would be flexible to accommodate other uses when not being used for lactation.

Supervisor Tang’s lactation accommodation legislation is good public policy for working women and those who employ them. As working mothers, we are proud the Chamber helps San Francisco businesses successfully implement family-friendly workplace practices that benefit everybody.

Dee Dee Workman is vice president of public policy, and Juliana Bunim is vice president of strategic communications, at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

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