Pilot program lets parents bring babies to work

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MOBERLY - When you check-in at the Randolph County Health Department, you'll be greeted by two-month-old Anna Goddard snuggling with her mom, Laura, in a baby wrap. That's because employees at the health department can bring their babies to work until the infant is four months old through a new pilot program.

"It's great and I think it needs to be established in as many work places as possible, especially for moms that are breastfeeding," Laura said.

The initiative came about after she expressed concern over only having four weeks of paid leave built up and wanted to successfully breastfeed. 

"Breastfeeding helps prevent things like obesity in children, diabetes, allergies. It helps the mom bounce back, also. It was just one of those goals, something I had never done," Laura said.

Anna is Laura's fourth child. She stayed at home for six weeks before returning to work with her other kids and did not breastfeed them. So, this time she wanted to give it a try.

The department's WIC coordinator and lactation consultant, Leona Greer, had learned about programs in other states where employees could bring their babies to work. The program in Arizona was so well-received, the governor started rolling it out to other state agencies. Greer thought her office would be the perfect place to give it a try and saw how it could benefit Laura and other parents. 

"There are so many things in our society that impact a mom's ability to successfully breastfeed, so I just feel like if a mom wants to give that to their baby, I want to help her do that," Greer said. "It's a win-win for both the mom and baby and it's a win for the business."

They pitched the idea to the department's administrator, Diana Taylor, and she liked what she heard. 

"It can increase teamwork. It can increase employee retention and also, employee loyalty and in these days when it's hard to retain employees, that's a benefit," Taylor said.

The county's health department board approved the pilot program that started in mid-April. With the board's approval, Laura brought Anna to work when she was four weeks old.

"Everybody's been really supportive and very helpful. If I'm busy doing something and someone else isn't, they'll help change her for me," Laura said. "[Anna's] getting used to it. We wake up, we go to work and she's getting good at it."

There are some rules for the pilot program. Moms and dads can bring their baby to work until they're four months old as long as the employee is in good standing with the department.

Parents have to keep up with their job responsibilities, bring their own baby supplies, and properly throw out diapers. They can't bring the baby to work sick and if the infant cries longer than 30 minutes, it's time to go home. Also, while a goal of the program is to promote breastfeeding, formula fed babies can participate, too. 

Laura said patients of the health department have reacted positively when they see Anna in her baby wrap. But, with change comes some doubt.

"A few staff members were skeptical of how it would work," Taylor said.

Overall, she said employees and the community have been extremely supportive.

"It's been an eye opener for me. The positive response has been overwhelming," Taylor said. "I just think family is so important and we need to appreciate that and make it easier for families to function in the workplace."

The health department's board will vote in July whether to make the pilot program permanent. So far, Laura is the only parent participating in the program.