Opinion: The Impact of Family-Forward Policies on Healthcare

November 8, 2019

Health execs need to examine their current parental leave policies, for both men and women. Six-week-minimum maternity leave, breastfeeding support programs, and making moms aware of those policies can yield huge dividends.

Many businesses fail to adequately support their working moms and new parents at a time when companies face intense competition in attracting and retaining talent.

As many moms enter the postpartum period, they face tough decisions as they feel forced to choose between their career goals or breastfeeding goals.

This lack of support often influences both men and women to seek more family-forward positions that ease the return to work after welcoming a new child into their lives. These family-forward businesses are benefiting from supporting new parents as well with decreased turnover rates, reduced healthcare costs, lower rates of absenteeism, and increased employee positivity.

How businesses benefit from improved parental leave policies 

It can be beneficial for healthcare executives to examine their current parental leave policies, for both men and women, to see how they can improve and provide more benefits.

There are a number of simple changes that can go a long way in providing savings and employee satisfaction.

One for example is extending maternity leave to at least six weeks.

Related: How does breastfeeding influence breast cancer risk?

After giving birth, it takes an average of six weeks for mothers to physically recover. Their bodies have been significantly stressed and they are often faced with soreness, swelling, and bleeding. Returning to work while facing these challenges can be stressful and exhausting.

At the same time, parents are adjusting to caring for their new infants. As families return home, babies adjust to their new surroundings and parents discover that their children don’t sleep through the night, as well as how cleaning, feedings and changing diapers alter their routines.

Dads need this time with their children just as much as mothers do. Not only can they help their partners when getting up or when they haven’t slept in hours, but it gives them a chance to intimately bond with their infants.

After California implemented its paid family and medical leave law, many businesses benefited by:

  • Decreasing their turnover rates as new mothers who took their paid maternity leave were more likely to return to the same employer. Ninety percent of businesses reported their support of new parents improved employee positivity and retention rates.

  • Increased productivity, as 99% of businesses reported less stress in employees who took leave.

  • Eighty-seven percent of businesses reported no cost increases and 9% generated cost savings in decreased turnover rates and/or benefit costs.

Another simple change is implementing a supportive breastfeeding program.

More parents are taking the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics to exclusively breastfeed up to six months before introducing food to their infants, while continuing to breastfeed for up to a year for optimal infant health, growth and development.

However, 63% of moms believe there is a stigma attached to moms who breastfeed on-site and 47% have considered making a job/career change due to needing to pump at work. Easing moms’ returns to work benefits moms, fathers, infants and provides a 3:1 return on investment for every dollar spent on implementing a supportive breastfeeding program.

Breastfeeding releases the hormone Oxytocin to assist with postpartum healing by helping the uterus contract back to its normal size at a faster rate and by reducing bleeding. This allows moms to recover quicker and could help them return to work sooner.

Breast milk is full of naturally occurring nutrients, proteins, immune-boosting antibodies, and enzymes for baby. It helps reduce the risk of developing allergies, eczema, viruses, diarrhea, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and more.

For dad, breast milk allows them to step in, which allows mom to rest by helping out with the feedings, burping, and cleanings. Men can bond with their babies with skin-to-skin contact and learn how to calm their infants and their unique cues.

Because breast milk is healthier for both mom and baby, employers benefit from reduced healthcare costs and reduction in missed days of work. Supporting breastfeeding mothers also tends to boost productivity and morale.

When Cigna created its breastfeeding program, complete with a private breast pumping room, equipment, and lactation education, it experienced:

  • Annual healthcare savings of $240,000 in expenses for mothers and their babies.

  • A 77% reduction in lost work due to caring for sick infants, saving $60,000 annually.

  • A 62% drop in prescriptions, lowering pharmacy costs.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also implemented a supportive breastfeeding program that includes a private lactation room, breast pumping equipment, and lactation education, resulting in:

  • 33% of parents returning to work sooner than expected

  • A 27% reduction in absentee rates

  • A 35% reduction in healthcare claims

As an added bonus, implementing a supportive breastfeeding plan is easy and cost-effective. Moms simply need a private room that’s free from intrusion by coworkers or the public. Make sure the room is comfortable, with a surface for placing breast pumps and supplies, a comfortable chair to relax in, a microwave for sanitizing breast pumps, a mini-fridge for milk storage and access to water, if possible.

Then, it’s important to actually let your moms know that you support them. Be sure to make your family-friendly policies known and be flexible with pumping schedules. Moms need about 15 to 20 minutes to express breast milk every few hours.

Also, put an end to any negative comments made about breast pumping at work or parental leave to ensure a supportive and accepting environment. Once you start providing for new parents and assisting with their breastfeeding goals, you’ll see the benefits in cost savings and increased positivity before you know it.

Marshall Staton is the director of human resources at Aeroflow Healthcare, a premier provider of durable medical equipment (DME).