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Assessing Need and Interest

Assessing the need for and interest in a lactation support program (LSP) is the first phase in ensuring its initial success and continued popularity. You can also think of this phase as market research for the project. There are probably several key stakeholders for this program: women of childbearing age, management, Human Resources, and any others with an interest in the program. Each group is likely to have different concerns and needs about the project, and identifying those will be key to the success of the project.

Preparing for Your Assessment

Before conducting your needs assessment, define overall goals for the project and identify key stakeholders and the target audience. Seeking stakeholder input is especially important in this phase.

Think about what it is you want to know—some ideas to consider including the following:

  • What services are currently available?
  • How well do current services meet employees’ needs?
  • Do different job functions have different access to or needs for services? For instance, are there differences in facilities for workers at corporate headquarters vs. women who work in retail locations or in the factory?
  • Is there a lactation support policy in place? If so, what aspects of the policy need to be improved?
  • How does the physical environment support a LSP? What barriers in the physical environment make creating a LSP a challenge?
  • How do employees perceive your organization’s support for a LSP?
  • How do managers perceive your organization’s support for a LSP?
  • How do other stakeholders perceive your organization’s support for a LSP?
  • How will you measure success? What baseline information do you need to collect now?

Use this information to determine what information you want to gather during the needs assessment and who should be asked for input. Don’t forget to get input from male employees. Fathers play an important role in supporting women’s decision to breastfeed, and might also benefit from access to educational and other support services. Consider approaching women’s groups or associations within your company. Also seek input from non-parent employees. In some work environments it can be difficult for non-parent employees to be supportive of LSPs if they do not fully understand what is involved and the benefits of such programs. Addressing this issue early on can help head-off potential points of conflict and harassment. Also, consider what information you might want from management to gauge, or create, support for the program.

Gathering Employee Input

There are numerous ways of gathering employee input about a LSP. You might choose to start with looking at your organization’s demographics. Do you have a lot of reproductive-age women (ages 18-44)? Do you have access to health risk appraisal (HRA), or other health data, that lets you know which of the mothers in your organization are nursing? Work with human resources and your occupational clinic, if you have one, to see what feedback they have had from employees about the issue. Surveys or focus groups might yield a great deal of information from employees about what they would (and would not) like to see in a program. Consider adding questions to employee satisfaction surveys or HRA if these are available but do not address the issue of lactation support. Other opportunities to consider for gathering employee input include the following:

  • Organization-sponsored daycare center
  • Organization-sponsored parents’ group, or e-mail listserv
  • Organization-sponsored health fair

Before collecting employee input, obtain guidance from appropriate agency experts to help determine what approvals may be needed. For example, federal agencies are subject to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regulations and will experience a long lead time if OMB approval is needed. Similarly, if your assessment is part of a research project, check with the appropriate institutional review board (IRB) to determine if IRB approval is needed. Each agency or company should work with its own internal and legal staff to develop appropriate guidelines and procedures for gathering employee input.

Next Steps

After you have collected enough information to confirm the need and interest in a LSP, continue with the planning phase.

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