Health+Benefits Vital Signs the November 2023 issue

Complying with Federal Lactation Rules

Q&A with Amy VanHaren, Founder and CEO, Pumpspotting
By Tammy Worth Posted on November 1, 2023
Q
It was your personal experience as a working mother that sparked the idea for Pumpspotting, correct? What was it that triggered you to think about taking this on as a business?
A
I started this company eight years ago out of raw need when I was trying to feed my own family and career. I was nursing or pumping or thinking about nursing and pumping all the time. I was in a leadership position at a marketing company for my first child, and then I owned my own marketing agency for my second. I live in Maine, and all my clients were in San Francisco, so I was flying across the country every six weeks. I spent so much time finding places to nurse and pump and take breaks and plan meetings and all those things around pumping. It really consumes your life so much that you are making decisions that impact your productivity and work. There is something to relieving that burden as an employer for your parents that has huge power.
Q
What kind of conditions do you see most mothers maneuvering when breastfeeding and working? How does it impact their work and parenting abilities?
A
To keep a tiny human alive and fed requires feeding every couple of hours, especially in the early days. If you feed for a full year, that’s 1,800 hours of time spent on this, which is the equivalent of a full-time job. When I was in that phase of life, I felt really alone. I felt that no one was talking about this and no one was thinking about the support systems for parents within companies. And that’s really the onus that drove us to build Pumpspotting.
Q
What services do you offer, and how has the company grown since its inception?
A

We’re a baby-feeding support solution for both companies and parents. We help parents navigate the day-to-day of nursing and pumping and feeding through access to lactation consultants, a mobile app and all the support systems they need to navigate feeding. We’ve served more than 70,000 parents to date.

Then we saw the opportunity, especially as the world has moved in this direction around family benefits and with the federal regulations, to help solve the problem for companies to be bridging the gap on both sides. We help companies create and implement workplace lactation programs, and we look at their policy and look at their spaces to check for compliance. We’ve worked with small companies and Fortune 100 businesses.

Q
You mentioned regulations. There have been a couple of federal acts that have been passed recently that place requirements on business to accommodate breastfeeding employees, correct?
A

The PUMP Act [Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, signed into law in 2022] actually expanded requirements that started under the Fair Labor Standards Act. That started requiring employers to provide a private space and a reasonable amount of break time for nursing employees to express breast milk. The Fair Labor Standards Act is what put the first protections around breastfeeding workers in place. The PUMP Act has expanded those requirements in a couple of important ways. First, it expanded the protections to all breastfeeding employees. Salaried employees, for example, are included, and that’s an expansion of nine million people, including teachers, farm workers and nurses. It also clarifies that pumping time counts as work time. It also improved an employee’s ability to seek compensation as recourse against their employer if they don’t conform to the law. The compensation gives parents a stake in this conversation in a way that they didn’t before.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act [which went into effect in June] says employers must provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodations when their ability to perform their job is temporarily limited by pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. For example, they may need to sit, drink water, require closer parking, flexible hours or additional break time to recover from childbirth. And lactation needs are part of that. The important part of the PWFA is that employers must engage in a conversation with an employee about their needs in an interactive way. So, as a parent, I don’t have to go to my company with a note saying I need accommodation for pumping. It is just covered as part of this. And my employer has to engage in a dialogue with me around my needs and what that looks like.

Q
It’s not just these new regulations but also the number of women returning to the workplace after the pandemic that must have really brought this issue to the fore, correct?
A

Absolutely. COVID really cracked it open. There was a long-running, underlying issue of the way women have had to navigate the multilayered nature of childcare and family and home. And in COVID, we were forced into a situation that increased the burden of care on women and mothers. I think it was over a million working mothers left the workforce during COVID. This shifted the conversation around the reality of trying to balance work and home and all of these things. We saw the impact both from an economics standpoint, in terms of women who left the workforce, and we saw it in the social conversation around how companies were supporting parents.

And what’s been interesting with the statistics that have come out is that with hybrid and remote work and the shift towards flexibility in the workplace, we’re actually seeing women roaring in their return to the workforce. I think that the numbers now are essentially almost as high as they’ve been since the previous peak in 2000. I think that we are cracking open the underlying issues, allowing us to reimagine work in a way that has benefited women and mothers. And they’re able to do it in new structures in a new format in a way that is serving as more of an equalizer, and I think that piece is really exciting.

Q
What have you seen to be some of the major challenges for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, and how do you help solve those issues?
A
There’s a couple of things that come to mind. With every journey, everybody needs something a little different, but they all need access to experts. For all those moments when you have a question or something isn’t working or you’re facing an issue, it’s access to a feeding expert or someone who can help you quickly answer that question and keep your milk supply up and move on. They need community. One of the factors in breastfeeding success is being around other parents in this phase of the journey. Sometimes it’s just some confidence, like a quick check-in to know you’re going in the right direction, you’re doing the right things and you’re a good mother. We really built Pumpspotting to think about the lactation journey, whatever that might look like, and then to meet parents, wherever they are, as they transition back to work.
Q
And what does your work look like on the employer’s side?
A

We’re helping companies think about a comprehensive workplace lactation program. There’s four areas to that. The first is policy and compliance. Do you have a milk expression policy? Are you aware of the federal and state regulations? Are you meeting the needs of parents around space, break time and communication?

The second bucket is space. Are you providing a private, safe, lockable, secure space? And then are you going above and beyond that space? A basic, private accommodation is amazing, but what really helps parents be successful are things like a sink and fridge. And is it close to their office and comfortable? And how do they book it?

The third is supported outcomes. That’s having access to evidence-based information and lactation consultants and all the things that you need to be able to achieve your feeding goals. And the last is access to care. That’s really on the healthcare side. That’s whether they have an easy way to get to all those feeding experts and lactation consultants. You might have lactation consultants covered as part of your health insurance, but how easy is it for parents—when they’re on day three and the milk is coming in and they have a tiny baby crying—for them to get access to it?

Q
Do you find many employers are already in tune with changes in this space, or are most still outdated in their policies?
A

I think it’s really fair to say that lactation has been very invisible within workplaces. The statistics show that over 42% of employees rank their lactation support worse than what they had hoped for. And 50% of breastfeeding parents consider a job change because of that. Breastfeeding lawsuits are up 800% in the last decade.

One thing we work with companies on is the difference between tolerance and inclusion. Tolerance is a parent coming to you and saying, “I am coming back from maternity leave, and I intend to breastfeed, so I’ll need a place to pump.” Tolerance is saying, “OK, great. We’ll help you figure it out and make that happen for you.” Inclusion is building support for lactating parents into your culture in such a way that they don’t have to come to tell you what they need from you because it’s already part of the policy. Ultimately, it’s part of the culture that you’re not being discriminated against for having to take time to pump.

Q
What are the economic benefits for companies that make lactation support part of their culture?
A

I think we’re evolving to a place where companies are starting to understand the benefits of supporting their population, shifting their culture, and ultimately signaling to everyone that they are a company that values women and families. There are huge impacts on retention rates by those who feel supported by their company when it comes to breastfeeding. We worked with DraftKings, and I think what’s been exciting is to work with a company that is forward-thinking about how they recruit and retain females in their workforce. We’ve had a lot of success, not just with companies who are primarily female-centric already but those that are trying to attract and improve their talent acquisition. About 20% of our customers have male-dominated workforces. We pretty much across the board have between 98% and 100% of the parents who use Pumpspotting say they feel better about the company they work for because they were given the program.

I’m enthused and optimistic that lactation benefits have become a real conversation within companies in a way it hasn’t been before, which feels really exciting. I do think, though, we still have a lot of education, awareness and a way to go before we get to a place where parents aren’t feeling as vulnerable and having to fight for their needs within companies.

Tammy Worth Healthcare Editor Read More

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