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Vt. Health Department Recognizes Area Employers for Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplaces

  • Aleigha Sykes helps her daughter Kinsleigh Cole put her shoes on at World of Discovery, a child care center in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 22, 2017. Sykes is a teacher at the facility. Her co-teacher Kasey Tatro helps Maeve Cramer with her bow, while Autumn DuBois another child at the center looks on. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Aleigha Sykes plays with her daughter Kinsleigh Cole at World of Discovery, a child care center in White River Junction, Vt., on Aug. 23, 2017. Sykes is a teacher at the day care center. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

White River Junction — Aleigha Sykes was working in a preschool when she learned she was pregnant. At that point, the Brownsville resident sought work in a child care setting that had space for an infant.

She found just that at World of Discovery’s White River Junction location.

Sykes, now 24, worked in the infant room for a few months before her daughter Kinsleigh Cole was born in January 2016.

After a six-week maternity leave, Sykes returned to a breastfeeding-friendly workplace.

Mother and daughter can use a quiet space equipped with a comfy chair to nurse, but more often Kinsleigh, now 18 months old, chooses to nurse in her classroom or out on the playground.

When “she wants it, she wants it,” Sykes said of her daughter. “She’s not shy about it.”

Their comfort has been aided by support from the other members of the staff and the other children.

“It’s an awesome, awesome experience,” Sykes said.

Breastfeeding has helped the two of them bond and boosted Kinsleigh’s weak immune system, Sykes said.

“It helped us become a stronger unit,” she said.

World of Discovery, which also has locations in Perkinsville and Springfield, Vt., was one of 26 employers that the Vermont Department of Health honored in a newspaper ad last week as part of National Breastfeeding Month.

Though accommodating breastfeeding mothers is a legal requirement under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, several Upper Valley employers have been giving nursing moms space and time to nurse or pump for many years. They say it’s worth the effort to retain employees and to maintain a family-friendly work environment.

Breastfeeding provides “many important benefits to individual health as well as the health of our community,” said Laura Cody McNaughton, who directs the state health department’s White River Junction district office, which serves 22 towns in northern Windsor and southern Orange counties.

Health benefits for infants include reduced rates of infection, sudden infant death syndrome, allergies and certain chronic diseases such as obesity, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics 2012 policy statement on breastfeeding.

For moms, breastfeeding can reduce postpartum bleeding, reduce the risks of postpartum depression and ovarian and breast cancers, and helps prevent neglect, according to the AAP.

For communities, the benefits are in reduced medical costs, McNaughton said.

Employers may benefit from reduced absenteeism when babies and moms are healthier, and there can be health insurance cost savings for both employers and employees, she said. Families also can save money by avoiding purchasing formula, she said.

The AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and continued breastfeeding for at least a year, while solids are introduced.

“We want moms to be able to continue to breastfeed for as long as possible,” McNaughton said.

Participants in the health department’s breastfeeding-friendly program have policies in place to address breastfeeding in the workplace and offer information about nursing to mothers before and after they return to work, perhaps in collaboration with the business’ health insurance provider, McNaughton said.

Participating businesses also offer private rooms other than bathrooms with a lock on the door so moms can express milk, flexibility in scheduling, or an alternate work schedule to allow them to work from home, she said.

Participants in the state’s program likely represent just a segment of Vermont (and some New Hampshire) employers with policies that are supportive of breastfeeding, McNaughton said.

Rates of breastfeeding in Vermont tend to be higher than average, McNaughton noted. Nearly 85 percent of Vermont babies were ever breastfed, compared to 81 percent nationally and almost 80 percent in New Hampshire, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card.

Several Upper Valley employers said family-friendly policies such as breastfeeding accommodations can help with worker retention.

“(We) do whatever we can to help nursing mothers come back to work,” said Beverly Widger, Mascoma Savings Bank’s senior vice president of human resources.

In addition to finding a private place such as a spare conference room with a comfortable chair for employees to use to pump breast milk and providing a refrigerator for storing it, Widger said the bank’s health insurer works with employees to assist them with prenatal and postnatal care.

“It’s never come up during an interview,” Widger said. “But I think it just is another way that Mascoma works with their employees to find solutions.”

Similarly, the Community College of Vermont makes quiet, private space available for breastfeeding employees and students and allows them the time to do so as a way of showing them support, said Bo Finnegan, CCV’s human resources director.

“We’re community-based and we’re family-friendly,” he said.

When a member of the staff is breastfeeding, the White River Junction-based Green Mountain Children’s Center converts an office for the purpose by adding a rocking chair, pillows, a radio and windows with curtains, according to the center’s director, Sally Avery. Employees whose children are enrolled in the center are given the time they need to feed their child in person, she said.

“We support each other and we want to be there for them,” Avery said.

Veterinarian Brad Burrington, the owner of Veremedy, an animal hospital with locations in Woodstock and White River Junction, said his 18-person workforce is primarily female.

It’s “all women and me,” he said.

Burrington, who said his wife nursed their children as babies, described the need for a clean, quiet place to pump as a practicality.

“Whatever,” he said. “Let’s support you, here we go.”

Finding the space and time to pump is really just the beginning, Burrington said. The next challenge is for employees to find affordable child care that works with the practice’s hours, which often go past 6 p.m.

But, he said, employees frequently step up to cover late afternoon hours when others have to pick up their children.

“We have each other’s backs,” he said.

In the 8½ years that Sara Kobylenski has been director of the Upper Valley Haven, the White River Junction-based social service organization that operates a homeless shelter, has had three nursing moms on staff.

“To create an environment (so that) the people that are helping others can be taking care of themselves at the same time is really important to us,” Kobylenski said.

Those with their own offices simply put notes on their doors while they were pumping saying “do not disturb,” Kobylenski said.

Nursing mothers in the shelter also are provided with private space to feed their babies, she said.

“(It’s) just good for everybody,” Kobylenski said.

In addition to accommodating breastfeeding, the Haven also invites new parents to bring their babies to work with them until the babies are 6 months old.

“We do have that kind of human-oriented environment,” Kobylenski said.

There are not any nursing moms currently employed at the Haven. The youngest to have spent his early months in the organization’s office is now 3.

But, “we do get our fill of little people,” Kobylenski said, as she looked at a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine drawn by a 5-year-old who was the first baby of a staff member to spend his early months at the Haven.

Though it’s counterintuitive, Kobylenski, who brought her own baby to work with her in the early 1980s, said babies are actually not disruptive.

“It actually works quite well,” she said. “The presence of a baby ... can really soften the environment where there can be a lot of stress otherwise.”

Find more information about the Breastfeeding Friendly Employer program and a list of participating businesses online at http://bit.ly/2vmXE1V.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.