by Bettina Forbes, CLC | September 16, 2009 11:35 am
Juanita Ingram, Mrs. U.S. Beauties 2009 (a national success pageant) saw our feature in Fit Pregancy and asked how she could support our cause! We asked Juanita to share her story in part because of the recent Totes/Isotoner v. Allen case (the Ohio “Fired for pumping” case) but mostly because we think she is a fabulous role model. We admire her tenacity and positive attitude in approaching her employer and “beating the booby traps”–the barriers that keep moms from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals. We are pleased to name Juanita Ingraham as a Best for Babes Champion for Moms. Here is Juanita’s story:
I am a wife, mother, lawyer, national queen for Mrs. U.S. Beauties 2009 and strong proponent for breastfeeding and the rights associated therewith.
I set and accomplished a great number of goals in my life to date; I finished college and went on to obtain my JD/MBA, passed the bar in two states and practiced with large firms and corporations. I served as a business law adjunct professor, inspiring young minds to pursue legal careers, received the Up and Coming Lawyer – Leadership In Law Award and recognized as on of the Top 40 Under 40. In addition, I became the first African-American woman to compete and win the title of Mrs. Indiana United States in 2007 and just this year I competed and became the national queen for Mrs. U.S. Beauties 2009, a pageant system that celebrates the success of the modern woman and inspires all women to achieve their goals and dreams. While all of the aforementioned experiences were joyous, none of them compare to the happiness that motherhood has brought to my life. When my daughter looks at me and smiles, I can see the unconditional love in her eyes for me. Her sincerity makes me feel like a queen everyday and I feel grateful knowing that I gave my daughter the best start in life that I possibly could - I successfully and exclusively breastfed my daughter for the first 15 months of her life. This accomplishment, like any other, was not without obstacles and challenges.
When my daughter was born in January of 2008, I was legal counsel for a large retail real estate investment trust. Practicing law full-time as a new mom, while my husband traveled often for extended periods of time with his job, was an extremely challenging undertaking. I was determined, however, to set and achieve the goal of breastfeeding my daughter for at least 12 months. But setting the goal wasn’t all that would be required to achieve the goal.
Prior to leaving for maternity leave, I asked our HR department about the details of the company’s corporate lactation program. I just assumed that a company of its size in the 21st century would surely have such accommodations in place. I was shocked to learn that it did not. Not only was there no formal corporate lactation program, but it was against company policy at the time to use any office for pumping purposes. In addition, many women in the company expressed to me that they had given up the idea of breastfeeding because of limited support and nonexistent accommodations. Moreover, those who did continue were forced to do so in an almost public fashion by sharing the “sick room” and pumping in front of each other, exposing themselves to one another whether they preferred to or not. If the sick room was occupied with a sick employee, there were no accommodations available for employees to pump. There were also numerous situations where lactating mothers within a particular department obtained permission from a supervisor to use a conference room to pump but those pumping sessions were often interrupted by HR personnel who would open the door, remove the curtain—without giving the lactating mothers time to cover themselves—and verbally admonish them, declaring their actions to be against company policy. These women were humiliated and discouraged. On several occasions I was even asked by fellow co-workers why I “just couldn’t use a bathroom stall” and I politely explained to them that I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to pump in a toilet stall for the same reasons they would not prepare their food while standing next to a toilet in a bathroom stall. After hearing of the numerous horrific incidents involving other lactating moms at the company and experiencing first hand the unsupportive atmosphere, I was determined to take action and initiate a formal corporate lactation program for myself and others!
I started by researching the law with regard to a woman’s right to breastfeed at work and was pleased to find that the state of Indiana had recently passed a law requiring all companies with a certain number of employees to provide reasonable time, pumping and storage accommodations for lactating employees. I then researched and created a proposal for a formal corporate lactation program setting forth all of the proven benefits that support the existence of such programs. For example, studies have shown that if working mothers breastfed their infants for at least 100 work days, 41% of infants never get sick in their first year of life compared to 10% of formula-fed infants whose mothers experience more than twice as much absenteeism as do the breastfeeding mothers in the first year of the infant’s life. Similarly, a study of Working Well Moms, CIGNA’s corporate lactation program for employees who breastfeed, revealed a savings of $240 thousand annually in health care expenses for breastfeeding mothers and their children. In addition, a savings of $60 thousand annually is realized through reduced absenteeism among breast- feeding mothers at CIGNA. The study also found that pharmacy costs for breastfed children are lower, because they require 62% fewer prescriptions.
After equipping myself with the applicable law and setting forth the persuasive facts in a written proposal, I requested a meeting with the head of HR and presented the recently passed legislation regarding breastfeeding rights in the workplace for the state of Indiana, along with my materials regarding the proposed corporate lactation program. I also informed her of the recent incidents that were discouraging and humiliating to currently lactating mothers. My presentation was a success! Two rooms were designation for lactating mothers and a formal corporate lactation program was established. It was also permissible to utilize your office to pump if desired. I considered this not only a success for myself, but for the countless number of lactating mothers at the company who did not have a voice because of fear of retaliation.
If you are a working mother facing a similar challenge in your workplace, my top five tips for starting a corporate lactation program are as follows:
To me, the right to choose to breastfeed your children is what being a modern day women is all about. My husband and I are now expecting our second child in March of 2010 and I am going to set the same goal as before. I am equipped with the knowledge of the law and inspired to provide the best start for our new bundle of joy as well. I wish the same for you!
For answers to the Top Five Questions Moms have about working and breastfeeding, click here .
Get involved! Support the Breastfeeding Promotion Act 2009, a bill sponsored by Rep. Maloney & Senator Merkley to end discrimination against breastfeeding mothers under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. For a summary of the bill and easy steps to take action, click here.
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