OHSU Doernbecher takes another ‘HealthyStep’ by rewarding breastfeeding employees

Any working mom can tell you, breastfeeding and expressing breast milk for a baby at work can be a tough job, and Oregon’s long-term breastfeeding rates highlight this difficulty.

While our state boasts one of the highest breastfeeding initiation rates in the nation — about 90 percent — its exclusive breastfeeding rates at three and six months after birth are nothing to brag about. Oregon’s exclusive breastfeeding rates fall to around 50 percent and 25 percent at three and six months, respectively.

Many organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and World Health Organization, recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding, with the addition of foods, for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.

While Oregon is a model for much of the nation for our initial breastfeeding rates, we stumble when trying to meet the above recommendations and Healthy People 2020 goals for extended breastfeeding.

Unpaid maternity leave, increased numbers of women in the workforce (with increased financial pressure for them to return to work sooner), and the challenges breastfeeding women face when returning to work contribute to the difficulty in maintaining breastfeeding rates started at birth.

Fortunately, Oregon law supports women who intend to breastfeed their children when returning to work. Employers with 25 or more employees must make reasonable efforts to provide private space and time for nursing mothers who request a place to feed or express milk for their infants.

But, as working women know, it’s not just about the space, it’s about establishing a culture of breastfeeding support in the workplace.

The health benefits of breastfeeding are well established for both mother and infant, but supporting breastfeeding also makes good business sense. The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health promotes “The Business Case for Breastfeeding,” citing studies which report lower insurance costs, fewer sick days, reduced employee turnover and even higher productivity and loyalty when breastfeeding mothers are supported in the workplace.

Healthier and happier employees are good for any organization, and Oregon Health & Science University leadership understands this.

HealthySteps, established in 2010, is an individual-initiated employee wellness program offered by the OHSU Benefits Department and managed by the university’s Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine. It encourages healthful behaviors in OHSU employees by providing financial incentives. Reduced health insurance premiums and annual cash bonuses are available for those who choose to participate.

Employees can earn points toward incentives by choosing from a menu of healthful behaviors, including exercise, community service, and team participation to achieve wellness and logging these activities. Now, breastfeeding and expressing breast milk are options for gaining points, as well.

In addition, similar to blood donation, points may be logged for making breast milk donations to the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank or any Human Milk Banking Association of North America milk bank (the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank plans to provide a local source for pasteurized breast milk, a life-saving medicine for Oregon’s premature infants, in 2013).

We congratulate Oregon Health & Science University, already a Breastfeeding, Mother-Friendly Employer, for taking another step forward promoting breastfeeding in the workplace!

Carrie Phillipi, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
Director, OHSU Mother-Baby Unit

Annette Magner, R.N., I.B.C.L.C.
OHSU/Doernbecher Lactation Services

Michelle Otis
Senior Research Associate
OHSU Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine

Sarah McCormick
Research Associate
OHSU Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine


5 responses to “OHSU Doernbecher takes another ‘HealthyStep’ by rewarding breastfeeding employees

  1. Congratulations OHSU on your forward, preventative thinking with your HealthySteps program!
    Not only are your breastfeeding employees and their infants directly benefiting from the support they receive, but your support of your employees’ altruistic sharing of their extra breastmilk is improving the health and Saving Babies Drop by Drop.

    Thank you from the Board of Directors of the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank.

    — June Winfield, Board Chairman

  2. This is just another reason I love working at OHSU. It’s great to see an organization help the health and wellness of its employees while benefiting the community at large. Go us!

  3. Bravo to OHSU for highlighting the importance of breast feeding and supporting working mothers who want to continue to nurse. What a wonderful way to ensure your employees feel supported in their efforts to maintain this vital link between mother and baby.

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