One issue that new mothers face when deciding to return to work after having a child is whether or not to continue breastfeeding. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding is better for babies’ health than formula, and they recommend that all mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months, and keep nursing for one year or more. Breastfeeding offers important benefits for mothers, such as reducing the risk of breast cancer, and helping with post-pregnancy weight loss. A majority of mothers in the U.S. begin breastfeeding their babies at birth, but most of them stop soon thereafter.

Although the health benefits of breastfeeding are known and documented, why do so many new mothers stop breastfeeding? Several barriers to breastfeeding exist, including having to return to work. Lack of flexibility in scheduling, lack of access to proper lactation rooms, and lack of managerial support for breastfeeding in the workplace are all reasons why mothers stop breastfeeding. Hourly workers espeically find breastfeeding at work simply impractical, and start using formula instead.

There are also cultural and social stigmas against breastfeeding, mostly fueled by lack of knowledge about the proper benefits breastfeeding can offer. In a feature story on NPR’s All Things Considered, Jennifer Ludden documents how African-American women have the lowest rates of nursing, and are half as likely to do so than whites or Latinos. According to the piece, a negative imagery surrounds breastfeeding in the African-American community, which Ludden says has long historical roots.  In the twentieth century, however, formula became a sign of prestige, and nursing became associated with a lower-class social status.

Interestingly, a blog post on the Wall Street Journal’s “The Juggle” blog points to a study by Phyllis Rippeyoung, assistant professor of sociology at Acadia University, finds that there are negative economic consequences associated with breastfeeding. She writes in a recent working paper that,

“In terms of long-term earnings, women who breastfeed less than six months have similar income trajectories to those who never breastfeed, but those who breastfeed for six months or longer have far steeper declines in income, mainly due to their increased likelihood of reducing their work hours or quitting,” she says.

So, because women find it impractical to continue breastfeeding when they return to work, they are faced with two choices: stop breastfeeding and risk worse health for themselves and their children, or reduce the hours they work and risk a lower future income, which also negatively impacts their families.

In this modern era, should mothers be faced with these seemingly rigid choices after childbirth?

Corporate Voice for Working Families doesn’t think so. In fact, promoting lactation programs within the workplace is one of Corporate Voices’ major initiatives. Corporate Voices produced a Workplace Lactation Toolkit that provides employers with a guide and resources on how to implement a workplace lactation program. It also provides information and guides for mothers returning to work and interested in getting support from a workplace lactation program.

The toolkit also illustrates the business imperative for lactation programs– workplaces that support breastfeeding reduce employee absenteeism and medical costs, and increase employee loyalty. Mothers who breastfeed typically take less time off to tend for sick children, and have lower medical costs, which lowers health care costs for employers.

As more businesses come to understand that lactation programs are good for both business and families, employers can start leading the way toward a more healthy, family-friendly society.