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Thursday, March 30, 2023


Professor finds work climate affects breastfeeding


UH provides new mothers with 11 mother’s rooms or lactation stations around campus. | Courtesy of UH Media Relations.

A recent study by a UH psychology research group found that accommodating breastfeeding in the workplace had a greater impact than other factors when a mother decided to exclusively breastfeed her baby.

Instrumental support, such as refrigeration and pumping rooms, were initially thought to be important, but researchers found social context more important.

“We were surprised,” said associate professor of psychology, Christiane Spitzmueller, who led the study. “If a supervisor’s made jokes about breastfeeding, that actually had an impact on women continuing.”

Spitzmueller and her research assistants, doctoral candidates Jing Zhang and Candice Thomas, were interested in the topic because of the general skew of many of their projects. They often look at the effect of work on family and health, but they were also interested in the specific health factors involved.

“(Breastfeeding is) a really important health outcome for children, and also for mothers, because there’s lower breast and ovarian cancer for mothers later in life who do breastfeed,” Spitzmueller said.

The study was made up of two parts. One looked at data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while the other looked at women from a variety of socioeconomic situations in Houston.

Both parts looked into infant feeding practices as well as the mothers’ actions, such as whether they went back to work, if they stayed at work and if they continued exclusively breastfeeding.

Spitzmueller found that only eight of the over 800 women involved were able to continue breastfeeding for 12 months, the proper amount according to the study.

Breastfeeding and unpaid leave

A variety of factors affect a mother’s decision to stop breastfeeding, including race and socioeconomic status.

“In this country, your wages have to be higher than your child care costs,” Spitzmueller said. “That’s actually pretty hard to accomplish. An infant daycare is about $1,700 a month. So, for women who have one kid, if you make less than $45,000 and you want your kid to go to a licensed daycare, that’s expensive.”

Spitzmueller said some countries like Norway and Sweden provide approximately 50 weeks of paid parental leave. In Sweden, this leave includes both the mother and father.

“The U.S. is probably the only Western nation that doesn’t really have guaranteed paid parental leave,” Spitzmueller said.

Diana Keosayian, director of assessment and accreditation services for the College of Technology, has two daughters, one of whom is 9 months old. She took three months off before returning to work after her daughter was born, using up the 12 weeks allowed by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

She exclusively breastfed her baby for the first six months, the first three of which she only nursed. She uses the bottle at times now, and even gives her daughter puréed fruit from time to time, because she was starting to get more hungry.

Keosayian still has her daughter on breast milk, and when she’s at home, on the weekends and on holidays, she goes back to nursing.

Keosayian is one of the few who was able to have her husband home for two weeks after their daughter was born.

“His company actually instituted like a transition policy where they gave him a week off paid, because we had the baby,” Keosayian said. “So he took that off, and he had taken another week off — but he had to take vacation time for that. That was a new policy they had instituted, and it was helpful.”

Even with the initiatives helping Keosayian, she still wishes that she had been given more than 12 weeks.

“Some women who I know here on campus who are administrative assistants or something can’t take 12 weeks unpaid leave (because FMLA) only guarantees 12 weeks if you’ve worked there for more than a year, and it’s 12 weeks unpaid,” Spitzmueller said.

Mothers’ accommodations on campus

One thing that UH provides to its faculty, staff, alumni and students is an on-campus daycare, the Children’s Learning Centers, located on Wheeler Avenue.

“We currently have about 120 children, ages 3 months to 5 years old, enrolled of UH faculty and staff,” said Cecilia Hernandez, the Learning Centers’ assistant director. “Thirteen faculty and staff children are enrolled in the infant program and six of those families currently breastfeed at the Center during the day.”

UH provides new mothers with 11 mother’s rooms or lactation stations around campus.

According to UH policy, “UH provides an appropriate location and a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate employees who are nursing mothers for a period of up to one calendar year after the birth of the nursing child, pursuant to applicable state and federal laws.”

And the Children’s Learning Centers provide two nursing rooms and three infant rooms where mothers are welcome to breastfeed, Hernandez said.

Keosayian’s daughters stay in the Learning Centers during the day. She said she is satisfied with the day care’s quality and proximity, which she said provides her with a lot of comfort. She sees the Learning Centers as one of the benefits of working at UH.

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