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Health Science Faculty Research Supports Breastfeeding in the Workplace

Health Science Faculty Research Supports Breastfeeding in the Workplace

Keene State College Associate Professor of Health Science, Dr. Meg Henning, is conducting research with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services, New Hampshire Breastfeeding Task Force, New Hampshire Occupational Health Surveillance Program, The Foundation for Healthy Communities and the Healthy Monadnock initiative on the effects of breastfeeding in the workplace

The research, funded by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), is part of an effort by researchers across the country to provide support to breastfeeding mothers who are returning to work after having a child.

“We know that breastfeeding is healthy for mothers and babies, and it’s financially beneficial for worksites,” said Dr. Henning. "Our research indicates that new mothers in the workplace feel that support for breastfeeding at their workplace is sometimes considered a favor, and this should not be the case. It is the law.”

Dr. Henning is working with the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Task Force, a group striving to meet the national objectives for breastfeeding prevalence and duration as outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deliver information to new mothers as well as employers. The New Hampshire Breastfeeding Task Force created an online resource where employers can go to find out how to be compliant with policy and keep current with breastfeeding trends and norms.

“There is a great deal of policy already, but policy is useful only if you do something with it. This effort pushes that practice piece,” said Dr. Henning. “Employers will be able to access the toolkit and take the online training. They’ll see sample breastfeeding policy, newsletters, and articles helping to make workplaces as breastfeeding-friendly as possible.”

In conjunction with the online educational efforts, Dr. Henning and the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Task Force have installed life-sized cutouts of a breastfeeding mother in public spaces around the state to combat the stigma around breastfeeding in public. “There’s a display in Keene Housing, one in a WIC office, and one at the YMCA in Keene because so many families and community members go there and it gets a lot of foot traffic,” said Dr. Henning. “It’s a quiet reminder that this is normal and that this is fine.”

During the past four years, the Health Science faculty members have approached the topic of breastfeeding from several angles, including both the public health and nutritional aspects. Going forward they will continue to study the topic from many more perspectives.

“One of the pieces that we’re working on next is developing information from a survey of about 680 women enrolled in WIC in which we asked about workplace policy,” said Dr. Henning. “We’d like to use the data on specific New Hampshire worksites to encourage them use the toolkit and targeted support.”