Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rural employers failed to meet breastfeeding needs of workers in study of one Missouri town

Rural employers are not adhering to health-reform requirements allowing women to breastfeed at work, says a study of one rural town by the University of Missouri. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act "requires employers of more than 50 employees to provide sufficient space and time for mothers to breastfeed during the first year of their babies’ lives," Sheena Rice reports for the MU News Bureau. But a study led by Wilson Majee, assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions, "found a lack of compliance with the law, inadequate breastfeeding information for mothers and lack of support from co-workers and supervisors."

The study focused on 17 rural Missouri mothers—six had college degrees and six were married—20-30 years old in a town with a population of 21,500. The poverty level was 17.2 percent, compared to 15 percent statewide, 15.9 percent of residents 25 and older have a college degree, compared to 25.8 percent statewide, and 18.5 percent of the town's residents worked low-paying manufacturing jobs.

Researchers found many women felt their breastfeeding needs were a burden to employers, rather than a right of employees, Rice writes. "A majority of large employers, particularly those employing primarily women, were aware of the federal regulations; however, they mainly offered accommodations only when requested. Many mothers also said that they were met with direct ridicule from their managers and coworkers when attempting to pump milk at work. The researchers say this unsupportive and reactive work environment made pumping during work hours difficult for mothers."

Majee told Rice, "While we found that most employers were tolerant, and at least attempted to be flexible in the permitting of pumping milk in the workplace, none were proactive in the sense of encouraging the practice of breastfeeding. In our case study, we found that employers often saw breastfeeding as a personal decision, and therefore were unwilling to bring up the issue to their employees, even at crucial moments, such as when mothers file the required paperwork for family medical leave. To help these young mothers, proactive discussions should occur at all levels—family, workplace and community.”

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