Workplace breastfeeding support for hospital employees

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Abstract

Background

Breastfeeding initiation rates have been steadily rising in Hong Kong, but most employed women wean prior to returning to work. While health care providers promote breastfeeding, women receive little support from employers. A few health care facilities offer some workplace breastfeeding support, but little is known about the specific types and amount of support that are offered.

Aims

This paper reports a study whose aim was to describe workplace supports available to breastfeeding women employed by hospitals that provide maternity services in Hong Kong, and to determine if differences in workplace supports exist based on the hospitals' numbers of employees or funding source.

Methods

In late 2001, a cross-sectional survey was completed by nurse managers or lactation consultants most knowledgeable about supports to breastfeeding employees in 19 hospitals.

Findings

The number of workplace breastfeeding supports or Breastfeeding Support Score (M = 7·47; SD = 3·37) varied considerably. Mean Breastfeeding Support Score for government-funded hospitals was significantly higher (t = 2·31; P = 0·03) than for private hospitals. Of the 14 hospitals that had a designated space for using a breast pump, only five (26·3%) had a private room with a door that locked. Only two hospitals (11·1%) allowed employees to take breaks as needed to use a pump; employees in 10 (55·6%) had to use their meal and regular break times. Hospitals having a hospital-wide committee that addressed workplace breastfeeding issues had a more supportive environment for breastfeeding employees. Although all surveyed hospitals returned the questionnaire, the sample size was small. It was difficult to ensure accuracy and to differentiate subtle variations in the services provided using a self-report survey.

Conclusions

Facilitating continued breastfeeding after employees' return to work requires that employers understand the needs of breastfeeding employees. Policy at the level of the employer and government is an essential component of creating a supportive environment.

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