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Does a Lack of Support at Work Reduce Breast-feeding? Michigan Agriculture Experiment Station Researchers Receive $500,000 USDA Grant to Find Out


News from
Michigan State University

By MSU Staff
January 3, 2006

Research has shown that breast milk offers infants more health benefits than formula and may help protect children against obesity. Most mothers in the United States start by breast-feeding, yet only one-third of infants are breast-fed for 6 months. MAES researchers suspect that a lack of support in the workplace environment may contribute to this dramatic drop-off and have received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Research Initiative to study the situation.

"The aim of this research is to understand the workplace climate as it relates to the support of breast-feeding," said Beth Olson, MAES food science and human nutrition scientist, who is the lead researcher on the project. "Our hypothesis is that employees who are new mothers do not perceive the workplace environment as supportive to this practice. They do not think that women can work and breast-feed their babies, so they stop breast-feeding when they go back to work.”

As part of the project, Olson and her colleagues will identify the components of breast-feeding support policies and practices at companies, as well as record the opinions on the policies of employees who are new mothers and the attitudes of managers toward breast-feeding support at work. Finally, the researchers will examine the relationship between company policies, employee perceptions and manager attitudes toward breast-feeding support.

"This research is significant because our results will be used to design better workplace breast-feeding support programs," Olson said. "These better programs, in turn, will lead to increased breast-feeding rates, healthier infants with lower health care costs, and happier and more productive working moms. The whole state really benefits."

Other researchers participating in the "Workplace Climate for Breast-feeding Support: Perception of New Mother Employees and the Role of Company Policies and Manager Attitudes" project are: Ingrid Fulmer, MSU assistant professor of management; Dennis Gilliland, MSU professor of statistics and probability; and Ed Wolfe, associate professor of education research and evaluation at Virginia Tech University.