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Research Articles

The impact of coworker support and stigma on breastfeeding after returning to work

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Pages 491-508
Received 28 Oct 2017
Accepted 06 Jun 2018
Published online: 19 Jul 2018


This study assessed the impact of coworker support on lactating mothers’ breastfeeding self-efficacy after maternity leave. A cross-sectional survey of 1000 working adults assessed effects of perception of fairness, coworkers’ support for breastfeeding colleagues, and ick response on willingness to help mothers needing breaks to pump breastmilk at work. The study also examined how coworker support affected mothers’ self-efficacy to continue breastfeeding. One out of four coworkers showed moderate to strong stigma, saw breaks to pump breastmilk as unfair, and showed less intention to help new mothers. These results suggest that while the majority of coworkers are generally supportive, lactating women are likely to encounter disapproving coworkers who may discourage them from continuing to breastfeed. The data showed that the majority of organizations included in this study have only passively fostered mother-friendly workplaces and could do more to encourage employees to be supportive of lactating colleagues.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


1. While many researchers are familiar with the Qualtrics platform for online surveys, Qualtrics Research SuiteTM is a for-profit international marketing and research company that compiles online representative or customized panels for public opinion and academic research (

2. The original breastfeeding efficacy scale consisted of 24 items, including three sub-factors – technique, intrapersonal factors, and support. Since it was beyond the scope of this research to include all 24 items, the authors chose 6 of them and modified them to fit the context of pumping breastmilk at work.


Additional information


The authors thank the Science and Society @ State S3 small grant program at Michigan State University which provided funding support for this project.

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