Breast pump provider fills desperate need for mothers wanting to work, and employers who want to keep them
With the Biden-Harris declaration of the “Maternal Health Crisis”, and more money spent every year on untreated perinatal mood disorders and anxiety, it is increasingly crucial for employers to step up and fill in support gaps by addressing specific needs of the mothers in their workforce.
One rarely discussed but very prevalent barrier for new mothers returning to work is breastmilk pumping – a necessity for mothers to do regularly in order to continue breastfeeding.
Because of drastic inefficiencies, awkwardness and inconvenience, many new mothers are forced to either leave work to breastfeed or stop breastfeeding altogether, just to be able to remain in the workforce.
It is a heartbreaking decision that Patrice Meagher, founder and CEO of Milkmate, which provides pumping equipment services to employers, had to make herself when she was attempting to breastfeed after returning to work.
“I needed to pump when I got back to work, and I was pumping in the bathroom, and it was really hard and embarrassing,” Meagher told HRD. “You have to clean all the parts in between each use, you have to lug everything to and from work with you, and it's super inefficient. I made it two days pumping at work with my first son. What happens if you don't pump is your milk supply goes away. I was forced to stop breastfeeding.”
Providing breast pumping rooms required by law
Since the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP) was signed into law in December 2022, it has been a requirement for most employers to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
Employees who are pumping breast milk are also entitled to sufficient break time to do so. However, the hassle and time it takes to set up, clean and transport breast pumping equipment is still prohibitive for many mothers, Meagher said, adding that this barrier can add more stress to already overtaxed families.
Her own experience inspired her to start her company, she explained.
“I was pretty obsessed with how to make the life of the working parent work in general, with all the things that you have to deal with, and the most inefficient thing that I ever did at work, the hardest additional thing, was pumping.”
Breast pumping rooms a recruitment tool
Milkmate installs and maintains high-performance breast pumping equipment for organizations, and trains HR and other employees on how to use it; HR personnel have been her “champions,” she said, as much of her business model is based on their feedback.
Many employers see the value in going the extra mile and provide fully-equipped and maintained “wellness rooms” for their employees who are pumping milk, Meagher said. Offering wellness rooms equipped with pumping stations are also a strong draw for incoming talent.
“We're helping employers that support women, because employers say to us, ‘we know we need to do this, we know we're not really doing it the right way,” she said. “But we're building out new space or, we want to recruit more women, we want to do a return-to-work initiative, and we want to retain our valued women.”
On September 27, 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration announced over $103 million in funding to go towards the maternal health crisis in the U.S.