What a family-friendly work culture means to a new mom

When a new mother returns to work everything is different, and depending on the length of their leave (or if they had any at all) they are often still getting the hang of little things like feeding and sleeping, not to mention figuring out child care. But there are things companies can do to support new mothers beyond just maternity leave – and some they are obligated to do. How far companies go to support families after the initial family leave can reveal how truly committed they are to supporting working families.

In 2010 the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provided protection for nursing mothers returning to work. The law requires that employers “provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk.” The law also addresses space for pumping, stating the employer must “provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public” for nursing employees. However, this law only applies to companies with 50 or more employees, and the law does not require employees to be paid for the time they spend pumping. And every mother who has spent 30 minutes, three times a day pumping knows this can add up. Did you company provide a lactation room or clean space for you to pump in? Were you able to store your milk safely? Did your company and supervisors support you in taking pumping breaks?

Perks from companies to help new mothers is catching on – Twitter just announced they will pay for new moms to ship breast milk home while traveling for work, joining EY, Accenture, IBM and Zillow in offering a small benefit that makes a big difference to new moms. Another popular perk among top companies is child care. Many large employers offer on site child care at a reduced rate to employees through organizations like Bright Horizons, who report that 95% of employees surveyed by the company said child care helped their productivity. Other companies offer to provide reduced rate emergency child care when day care closes or the nanny needs a day off. Child care is a huge hurdle for women returning to work and it is often unpredictable. Helping women manage where their children will be taken care of while they are working allows moms to go back to the office with less stress and in turn, be more productive employees – what company wouldn’t want that? Does your company help with child care onsite or in emergencies?

Many supportive companies will offer flex hours, or the ability to start back part time in order to ease the transition. This can also help ease child care concerns, allowing women to work from home when the nanny or child is sick. In fact, the ability to telecommute is ranked among the highest perk needed by new mothers. Companies like Cisco and Intel who offer this benefit rank high on the list of women-friendly companies because of it. Did your company offer telecommuting or flex time to help you balance work and family?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics more than 70% of mothers work outside the home. It is time that companies start to understand what mothers need to be successful in those crucial first months or year after a child is born. The trend toward offering more paid leave benefits signals a better understanding of the needs of working families for many companies, but the way a company acts once a mother has returned to the office really demonstrates a family-friendly culture.

Every year for the past 30 years Working Mother’s magazine has released its list of the 100 best companies for working mothers. Only two companies have consistently made the list each year: Johnson & Johnson and IBM. This leaves a lot of room for improvement by U.S. companies. Use List Your Leave to let us know what makes your company really family-friendly, because how a company acts when mothers return to work is just as important as how much paid leave they offer.