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 Real Life Stories

Arizona Bring Your Baby to Work Program

By Susie Leo, MPH, RD 
Special Project Coordinator, Bureau of Nutrition & Physical Activity, Arizona Department of Health Services

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has encouraged parents to bring their infant to work for 13 years. The policy started as a pilot program in 2000 in the Office of Nutrition, which promotes breastfeeding as the best and most nutritious start to an infant’s life.The policy would allow state employees to ‘walk the talk’ of exclusive breastfeeding for the infant’s first six months of life.

The pilot allowed a baby to stay with the mom for four to six months, depending on the baby’s activity levels and developmental needs. It also was a breastfeeding policy, where mothers could bring their exclusively nursing infants with them to work. The pilot was a tremendous success with the first few babies and it became an official policy. The six-month timeframe was realistic and sensible, since this is generally when a baby’s rapidly-changing abilities demand closer attention than a parent can give while working. The pilot also demonstrated noticeable improvement in employee morale.

In 2007, the policy changed to allow any infant, whether breastfed or bottle-fed, to come to ADHS for up to six months. The policy change also opened up the program to fathers and legal guardians, recognizing the importance of infants bonding with their parents or caregivers. Having the baby at their side helps the parent learn to respond to the infant’s needs and allows them to witness those irreplaceable first developmental milestones.

The ADHS Infant at Work program is one of the longest running programs in the country. To date, more than 150 babies have participated. Before they can bring their babies, parents and their supervisors meet with the program coordinator to discuss the program, its challenges and its benefits. Ultimately, the staff member must sign the policy agreeing to keep the infant with them at all times, provide all necessary equipment and supplies, and maintain acceptable work performance. There are certain situations and work environments where it is not safe or appropriate to bring the baby to work, such as the Arizona State Hospital, most areas of the State Lab and certain job duties that are not conducive to having an infant by the employee’s side. Those are handled on a case-by-case basis.

There have been some unique situations, such as where both parents were ADHS employees and they both cared for the baby during the work day. There was a set of twins who came to work, one at a time, and only a few days a week. We also had employees bring their foster infants.

Initially, all participating babies were breastfed. Since 2010, 75 percent of mothers bringing their babies to work indicate they have breastfed their infant.

There have been many news stories about the program over the years (East Valley Tribune, Cronkite News Watch, KTAR). They have highlighted its uniqueness and the immeasurable benefits it confers to babies and their parents or caregivers. Staff members value this wonderful opportunity afforded them at ADHS.