CHAMPAIGN — A local public health program aimed at helping breast-feeding moms feel more comfortable at work and other public places is getting a less-than-enthusiastic response.
So far, only a dozen employers have been willing to become certified as breast-feeding-friendly environments for their employees and/or customers in a program launched this past summer by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, says Karima Isberg, a breast-feeding peer counselor with the district.
The health district started the free program hoping to make the local community more "breast-feeding friendly at all levels," she said.
But, she adds, "it's been slow going."
Many employers are already required to minimally accommodate nursing mothers.
State law (Public Act 92-0068) requires workplaces with five or more non-family employees to provide daily unpaid breaks to women who need to pump breast milk. It also requires those employers to make a reasonable effort to provide a private place other than a bathroom stall to pump.
Isberg said the district wants to give certificates recognizing those employers willing to do more than that and has several levels of participation available beyond compliance with the state law.
The lowest level of certification requires only about a minute's worth of training, she said, and that involves explaining to employees that the workplace is a breast-feeding-friendly environment.
Higher levels can include providing more amenities, such as a private room for guests to breast-feed and not tolerating discrimination against breast-feeding mothers.
Two options for the "double-gold" certification are providing refrigeration for breast milk or allowing a nursing mom to bring her baby up to three months old to nurse at work, Isberg said.
"It's best for lactation if the baby can nurse on cue," she said.
The health district thought it might all be a bit overwhelming, so it also offers some optional free training for any employer that wants it, Isberg said.
Employers that support breast-feeding employees reap benefits, she said.
Breast-fed babies tend to be sick less — which can mean fewer sick days are taken by the nursing mom — and more moms who plan to breast-feed after their maternity leaves end return to work, she said.
Plus, Isberg says, "employees tend to feel more satisfied and loyal when they have that kind of support."
The American Academy of Pediatrics lists among its benefits of breast-feeding for babies: better protection from respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, allergies, asthma and eczema.
The doctor's organization recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of a baby's life, then continuing breast-feeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months and continuing breast-feeding as long as it's mutually desired by mother and baby.
Isberg, a breast-feeding mother herself, said she initially approached businesses hoping they would like to be honored for the practices they already have in place.
But she has been refused by Market Place Mall and some others, and doesn't understand the hesitation.
"My initial feeling is people are kind of scared about it," she said.
Some may fear it will identify them too much with breast-feeding, she said. Some might mistakenly think there's a charge for the program, she said, and for others, it might just not be high on their priority list.
The 12 that have become certified include Natural Gourmet, Lincoln Square, Confidentially Yours, Krannert Center for Performing Arts, Chesterbrook Academy, First United Methodist Child Care Center, Frogs and Fairies, The Caring Place, Developmental Services Center, Crisis Nursery, McCabe Chiropractic and Randa's Daycare, Isberg said.
Gay Amorasak, owner of Natural Gourmet, a store in Champaign, said none of her employees are breast-feeding moms, but she remembers what it was like to a breast-feeding mom. Her customers are welcome to breast-feed anywhere in the store, she said, but the store also has cafe tables to use and a storage room available if they'd like some quiet and privacy.
"I nursed children myself, and it was always a tricky ordeal, sometimes, to find places you felt comfortable, and you were wondering if it was appropriate," she said.
Dennis Robertson, general manager of Market Place Mall, said the mall doesn't use its common area to promote any cause. Plus, he said, it already offers two private rooms for breast-feeding moms to feed their babies or pump milk. Both are located near restrooms, he said.
Encouraging a more breast-feeding-friendly community is really a public health issue, Isberg says.
"Women complain that there's no place to go breast-feed where they feel comfortable, so they give it up," she said.