For many new moms, the end of maternity leave induces anxiety. I know this from experience, having returned to work twice in the past three years after maternity leave.
But the challenges of returning from maternity leave are compounded when a nursing mother is sent on a business trip and has to leave her child not only for the day, but also one or more nights.
As a business leader, you’re required by law to support nursing employees, but advocating for them should go beyond compliance. It’s about valuing your employees so they enjoy coming to work every day. And as important as that support is in the office, it’s even more important for nursing women who have the added stress of being on the road.
Fortunately, there are several simple things employers can do to support new nursing mothers — and retain their top talent.
Support Starts at the Top
I recently got the chance to sit down with Sheila Janakos. She’s a highly trained certified lactation consultant and the owner of Healthy Horizons, a breastfeeding center and corporate lactation service provider. She’s seen firsthand the end result of supporting breastfeeding moms in the workplace.
“One of the largest corporate accounts I work with, a leader in the tech industry, stated that he never imagined what an impact it was that his company offered new moms prenatal and postpartum education, pump rooms, and support on working and breastfeeding,” said Janakos. “His employees were more likely to return to the workforce, and employee satisfaction hit an all-time high.”
The result was something her client hadn’t banked on. “He just thought he was doing the right thing by helping his employees combine working and breastfeeding,” she said. “Never did he imagine it was giving the company a competitive edge on talent retention.”
Here are five simple ways your company can support working mothers and retain top talent when they’re out in the field:
1. Build in Time for Pumping
New moms need to pump as often as every three hours, and on the road, it can be hard to find a spot that’s clean and private. Missing a pumping session can lead to decreased supply, engorgement, leaking, and even mastitis, a breast infection with flu-like symptoms.
Business trips are often jam-packed with conference sessions, meetings, and networking events. Of course, you want to get as much out of the trip as possible — and that’s understandable. It is, however, unreasonable to ask a nursing mom to block off every minute of the day for client meetings.
If you’re scheduling travel for a nursing mom, build breaks into her schedule so she has time to pump.
2. Be Cognizant of Lodging Needs
It’s easier for nursing mothers to stay at a hotel near the event they’re attending or — if at all possible — in the same hotel. This gives working moms easy access to the privacy of their hotel room, where they can easily pump and store the milk during the event. In addition, it’s important to make sure the room has a minifridge so the milk doesn’t spoil.
3. Get the Milk Home to Baby
If it’s a short trip, your nursing employee can likely take the milk home with her when she leaves — as long as she has enough milk stored at home to cover the baby’s needs for the duration of her trip. For longer trips or for moms who don’t have adequate reserves at home, it’s a good idea to arrange and pay to ship the milk home. Give your employee your FedEx number, a cooler, and dry ice, which will be used to ship the milk.
Also, be flexible on the length of the trip. If the employee requests to go for a shorter period of time, try to accommodate.
4. Book Direct Flights
Breast milk needs to be stored at specific temperatures, and keeping it cold while traveling can be challenging. One way to support your nursing employees is to book direct flights whenever possible. While this may seem like something small, the benefits are great to the mother: You’re providing her with a better chance to get her milk home safely, possibly reducing the number of times she needs to pump on the road and allowing her to see her little one sooner. If you can’t book direct flights, get her a day pass or membership to an airport lounge such as the Admirals Club. This will at least give her a nice place to pump and get additional ice for her cooler.
5. Offer Resources
It’s your job to understand the value of breastfeeding and support your employees when they leave to pump. Keep in mind how challenging it must be to leave your little one on a business trip. Now, image having to do so without any support from your team.
Providing informational resources from experts such as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the International Lactation Consultant Association when a new mom comes back from maternity leave lets her know that she’s supported.
The simple act of caring speaks volumes, but to go above and beyond, you can offer tangible resources, too. Create a “welcome back” kit for employees with a soft cooler to store milk, and fill it with snacks, water bottles, and leak pads she can use on their business trips. You can even brand the items to make them more personal from the company.
Going the extra mile to support nursing employees in the field will make a big difference for not only them, but also your company. “The moms I work with sing the praises of these supportive and generous companies and feel a loyalty that is priceless,” said Janakos. “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a company that cares about you and your baby’s health and well-being?”
As a nursing mom who has had more than 70 work-related flights while nursing two children over the past three years, I can say that having American Airlines support me as a nursing mom has kept me with the company. The returns are tangible. Having team support while staffing booths at conferences, staying in the event hotel, keeping trips to four days or less so I could carry the milk home with me on a direct flight, and having the support of the company behind me has made the difference.
Had a pleasant or nasty experience trying to nurse on the go? Let us know in the comments below.
Aleda Schaffer is a strategic partnerships manager at American Airlines. Her team is focused on helping businesses through Business Extra, a complimentary business travel rewards and incentives program designed to help small and mid-sized companies reduce their travel costs.