Coworkers generally support breastfeeding mothers; workplaces could be more mother-friendly

Despite evidence that breastfeeding through babies’ first six months is beneficial to mothers and their children, lactating moms still face some hurdles at the office, including the disapproval of coworkers, according to a new study in the National Communication Association’s (NCA) Journal of Applied Communication Research. The authors, led by Jie Zhuang, surveyed 1,000 working adults (equal number of males and females) to assess perceptions of fairness, coworkers’ support for breastfeeding colleagues, and “ick response” to mothers who need lactation breaks at work.

The study examined the stigma associated with breastfeeding women, which takes the form of “coworkers labeling them as unprofessional, standing in the way of team productivity, and even selfish for wanting to continue to breastfeed.” The 1993 Family Medical Leave Act and the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act both permit mothers to take breaks to pump breastmilk, but coworkers who take on extra work to compensate for missing team members may feel resentful and unfairly treated. The authors note that a lack of support and negative response at the workplace can contribute to early termination of breastfeeding.

Overall, three out of four coworkers believed their workplace was supportive of breastfeeding mothers, and their perception of fairness and support for breastfeeding was directly related to their intention to help a nursing colleague. This seemingly encouraging result can be misleading since a quarter of the participants were not supportive of breastfeeding mothers. Moreover, two out of three participants who stigmatized women who pump at work were males.

“So often, workplace stigma is unexpressed and subtle in how it is ‘communicated,’” the authors write. “This absence of approval and support by some coworkers is correctly interpreted by lactating women as an expression of disapproval.”

The authors raise questions about how organizations can create mother-friendly workplaces that encourage coworker support and willingness to help lactating mothers, including lactation rooms (only 28 percent of organizations in this study provide these), flexible scheduling, job sharing, and more.


Read the full article on Taylor & Francis Online here.

To arrange an interview with the study authors, contact Jenna Sauber at 202-534-1104 or