“Infants at Work” is Taking Off in State Government

The idea of bringing babies into the workplace has been explored by local jurisdictions and by the private and non-profit sectors, but it’s relatively new to Washington’s state agencies. The Department of Health was the first agency to create one; they officially implemented their Infants at Work (IAW) policy on July 1st, 2015. Today DOH, the Health Care Authority, the Traffic Safety Commission, the Department of Commerce, Utilities and Transportation Commission, the Department of Enterprise Services, the Department of Early Learning, the Department of Licensing, Department of Natural Resources, Labor and Industries, and the Office of Financial Management all either have policies in place or are piloting the program. Several other agencies are currently exploring the concept.

The main components of the program are pretty standard across agencies:

  • Babies of approved participants can come in from the age of six weeks to six months, or until they are crawling.
  • There must be at least two approved back-up caregivers.
  • A safety checklist and risk assessment of the parent’s workspace must be done.
  • Parents can bring only one infant into the workplace at a time.
  • Parents and caregivers still need to be able to get work done.
  • Sick infants or infants that are fussy/disruptive for a prolonged period are taken home.

The benefits of IAW policies include: increased employee retention, employees interested in returning from leave sooner, increasing dedication to the employer, and greater employee satisfaction and long term productivity. It offers health benefits to babies, supporting critical bonding, infant brain development and prolonged breastfeeding for mothers who choose to breastfeed. IAW can help a mother continue breastfeeding longer, which has been shown to reduce health care costs and sick days taken later on.[1] It allows the participating parent to save money on childcare, which can be a tremendous expense. Fathers can participate too, letting them be more involved in baby bonding. The IAW concept has been discussed as one of the ways Washington state agencies can work toward the Governor’s Goal 5, specifically becoming an “Employer of Choice,” by offering families more options and increasing employee satisfaction.

DOH has now had 40 infants participate in their program as of May 2017! They have information posted on their public page as a great resource for people or agencies interested to learn more:

http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/WorksiteWellness/InfantatWorkProgram

IAW policies give parents more choices, which is a good thing for families, agencies and ultimately Washington State. For full disclosure, this writer’s son was a participant earlier this year; I feel extremely grateful for the program. That time spent bonding with my son while still being able to work was priceless, and my co-workers loved having the wee baby Vazquez in the office. He’s now eight months old and has “graduated.”

Written 10/15/16, updated 7/24/17

[1] Parenting in the Workplace Institute: http://www.babiesatwork.org/ROI%20From%20a%20Babies-at-Work%20Program.pdf