Interview with Melissa Gonzales, EVP Medela for “The Returnity Project”
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
For more than 50 years, Medela has advocated for breastfeeding moms and we remain committed to improving mom's breast milk pumping experience. This includes the important – and sometimes difficult – transition for moms who return to work outside the home after baby.
Many new moms return to work after maternity only to find their “designated space” to pump is a converted office or conference room. Or they feel they cannot step away from their work during the day to fit in their necessary pumping sessions. We know that many U.S. employers may not be aware of existing regulations intended to prevent these situations, or they simply may not know how to best implement breastfeeding policies and programs that will support working moms.
Medela’s newly launched, New Moms’ Healthy Returns program offers a solution that helps employers understand the regulations and access the best-in-class resources needed to support breastfeeding moms in the workplace.
Melissa Gonzales, executive vice president of the Americas for Medela is one of the powerful women leaders who is extremely supportive of and committed to this initiative and we wanted to make sure you saw the interview Melissa recently did for “The Returnity Project.” We’ve included the entire interview here. Thank you to Melissa and “The Returnity Project” for championing the needs of working moms and this vital program!
You have dedicated a majority of your career to help breastfeeding moms, so thank you for advocating for moms everywhere in the work you do. Will you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career with Medela?
I have been in the healthcare industry my entire career. I had little experience with breastfeeding and lactation, but was completely intrigued when I first crossed paths with Medela over 10 years ago. Today, I work with teams who share a passion for supporting breast milk feeding parents. Our first step is always listening to mom and using her experience to research, invent and improve products and resources to support her breastfeeding goals. The reality is products and services alone are not enough. There is an incredible amount of education that is needed to support a mother along her journey. In my specific role as executive vice president of Americas for Medela, I also help advocate for policies that benefit all breast milk feeding mothers and their babies, which can range from meeting with congressional leaders, both locally and on Capitol Hill, to supporting health insurance reimbursement for breast pumps, to ensuring hospitals have support to implement the right clinical tools and practices. I am also a licensed Registered Nurse in Illinois, which helps me maintain the perspective of the mothers for whom I advocate and the providers that support them.
You recently partnered with Mamava to create the New Moms’ Healthy Returns program. Will you tell us more about that project and what inspired you and the Medela team to do this?
We are really excited about New Moms’ Healthy Returns! It is a new solution to help employers better support breastfeeding moms when they return to work after having a baby. Current research shows that nearly two-thirds of new moms are going back to work after having a baby, but close to 60 percent of moms do not breastfeed for as long as they intend, with some citing  “returning to a workplace with inadequate policies or support” as a reason they stop breastfeeding. Additionally, a recent study found an average retention rate of 94 percent for certain companies with lactation support programs. Any employer would tell you that is fairly significant!
New Moms’ Healthy Returns aims to take the guesswork out of supporting new moms at work. The program offers a customizable package, where employers can choose the resources that are most important to their specific company’s breast milk feeding employees, including:
1. Top-of-the-line breastfeeding products and resources from Medela
2. Lactation pods by Mamava, which are easy-to-place, freestanding and designed to meet the physiological needs of breast milk feeding mothers
3. 24/7 virtual support from pregnancy through baby’s first year
4. Breast milk shipping for traveling employees
5. Education and support to help encourage a successful breastfeeding journey
Additionally, many people don’t know that U.S. law requires companies of certain size to provide adequate time and space for employees to express milk, and there is not always an easy or clear way for employers to implement these policies. We hope New Moms’ Healthy Returns will provide a turnkey solution for employers and employees alike.
Medela is the #1 recommended breast pump brand* with a strong legacy of trust and Mamava is the inventor of the first lactation pod. With our two companies’ shared goal of supporting breast milk feeding moms, it made sense to partner together on something that is desperately needed in the United States where we felt we can make an impact.
Many of the stories we’ve shared on The Returnity Project focus on both the challenges and beautiful moments of motherhood; specifically the return to work. What is the return to work like for many parents?
The return to work can be extremely challenging and chaotic for most – if not all – parents. Many moms are required to return to work after only a few weeks of maternity leave, when they have either just established a good breast milk feeding pattern, or when they are still working to establish it. Add to that the baby is not sleeping through the night at this point, and the result is often tired and frustrated moms who are trying to balance of all this while returning to a full-time job. At the end of the day, they just want what is best for their baby.
Further, if a mom wishes to continue breast milk feeding and working, often her only option is to pump at work in order to maintain her milk supply. All too often, I hear stories of moms who pump in bathroom stalls or in closets because those are only private spaces available to them at work. We feel that by offering a simple solution through New Moms’ Healthy Returns, more employers will begin providing working moms the benefits they need and deserve.
1. What advice would you give to working moms?
Talk with your employer! Many moms are not aware of the policies that are in place to prevent the distressing pumping situations we hear about. We created a webpage specifically for working moms, which includes a toolkit they can download to help guide their conversations with employers about supporting working mom employees. Empowering working moms to have the conversation will help instill confidence in them and hopefully inspire employers who are not currently doing so, to be more transparent about breast milk feeding and pumping policies in the workplace.
What are you most proud of?
The opportunity I have each day to advocate for women and babies is what keeps me motivated. As a woman leader, I am proud to be an example to other women who aspire to advocate for others, whether in a similar role supporting moms, or in whatever capacity someone is passionate about.
Anything else you want to share?
Medela knows that each mom’s breast milk feeding journey is unique. Responsibly helping moms to successfully breastfeed their babies and to do so for as long as they choose is at the heart of everything we do. Our hope is that by introducing programs to support working moms, we will continue to break down traditional barriers to breast milk feeding and pumping, not only at work, but in whatever location or situation moms may be. This effort is about supporting women and their families to help give their babies a healthy start.
About The Returnity Project:
We're on a mission to change the experience of returning to work from parental leave, and to normalize conversations about the triumphs and struggles of being a working parent. Returnity Kits include the following:
Products: Curated essentials to help you navigate work & parenthood. Each product has been created for working parents, by working parents
Resources: Articles/Content by an assembled a team of experts to support you in all facets of your Returnity. Exclusive access with the purchase of every Kit
Community: Kit holders are invited to join a private Facebook community full of their peers.
No one should go through Returnity alone. It takes a village and we're here to be part of yours. Check out The Returnity Project on Instagram @thereturnityproject and @returnitykit
*IQVIA, using ProVoice Survey; Oct-Nov 2018.