In November 2010 I found out I was pregnant with my first child. After reading up on all of the things that could possibly go wrong with my pregnancy, the foods I should avoid unless I wanted a baby with three eyes and all of the ways I can scar my child emotionally for life, I found information on a decision I could make which would reduce the chances that my child would have asthma, respiratory infections, eczema, diabetes or be obese, and would be more socially well adjusted and confident. What was this miraculous decision? Breastfeeding my baby.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
What may seem like a private decision made by new moms can actually impact EMS workplaces in a positive manner. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), babies who are breastfed have fewer illnesses, including ear infections, respiratory infections and bouts of diarrhea, than their formula fed counterparts.1 What this means for employers is fewer sick calls from the medic-mom due to an ill baby. Additionally, breastfeeding has been shown to help with post-partum weight loss, it reduces breast and uterine cancer risks and the risk of mom developing diabetes, and, thanks to the breastfeeding hormones, helps mom get back into her “skinny jeans” and uniform pants sooner. The psychological benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby can’t be ignored either—the close bond and eye contact shared between mom and baby helps baby develop socially, and helps mom feel comforted that her baby is safe, secure and well nourished.
And with the current state of the economy, nobody can argue with the price of breast milk: aside from the increased nutritional needs of mom to produce the milk, it’s absolutely free.
The AAP and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months, although longer is “mutually desirable.”1 Unfortunately, working mothers in the U.S. are generally required to return to work within 12 weeks of the baby’s birth, rendering regular direct nursing at the breast impossible for most new moms.
This is especially true for medic-moms who return to work on an ambulance—babies aren’t allowed to “tag along” for EMS runs. The good news is that it’s possible to continue to provide breast milk, even when the mom isn’t able to directly nurse the baby directly, through expression, or pumping, of the milk.
Newborns tend to eat eight to 12 times per day, or every two to three hours. In order for a breastfeeding mom to maintain her milk supply, she should pump approximately every two to three hours for about 15 minutes, though some variations are OK and expected. Failure to regularly express milk can lead to a host of problems, from decreased milk supply to clogged milk ducts, which can result in mastitis, or an infection of the breast. EMS providers are at a greater risk for these conditions due to working long hours and the frequent inability to get adequate sleep, as well as the general stress of the job. The inability to pump at regular intervals only increases the likelihood of these conditions.
A new medic-mom will have to experiment to find what works best when it comes to how long and how often she needs to pump. She should also take the time to investigate what resources are available to her through her employer. Many employers are required by federal law to provide certain resources to nursing moms, including breaks and pumping locations. Employers need to be familiar with this law to ensure compliance and avoid lawsuits.
In March 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended as part of President Obama’s healthcare plan to include provisions for nursing moms at work. Section 7(r) of FLSA law states that an employer shall provide:
Reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and 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.