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State agencies allow babies at work

Pilot program tests six months at office

News Tribune (Tacoma)

OLYMPIA – During his four months of going to work with his mom at the state Department of Health in Tumwater, Gavin VanHoozer became known as the office baby.

At 8 weeks old, Gavin was part of a pilot project allowing parents to bring their newborn to work, a baby-friendly policy that Health Secretary John Wiesman made permanent at the agency last month.

Now, at least one other state agency is testing a similar policy of allowing parents to bring infants to the office.

“The idea behind it is our whole agency is out promoting health,” said Kelly Stowe, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health. “And that first six months of life is pretty important for babies and parents to be able to bond.”

Making it easier for working moms to breastfeed their babies is also a priority of the policy, Stowe said, “because that promotes the health of both mom and baby.”

Marissa VanHoozer, Gavin’s mother, said the baby-friendly policy at the Department of Health enabled her to come back to work while still giving her time to bond with – and breastfeed – her newborn.

“Personally for me … if I had to choose between going back to work and dropping him off at day care, that wasn’t something I was going to do,” VanHoozer said Friday.

At the same time, VanHoozer said, she and her husband had worried about “that financial strain of going back to one income” should she delay returning to work.

“I’m lucky to not have gone through that stress,” said VanHoozer, who is an executive assistant to the communications director at the health department.

Following the health department’s lead, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission is now testing out having a baby in its 22-person Olympia office, said Shelly Baldwin, spokeswoman for the agency. The agency is running a pilot program that mirrors the health department’s by allowing parents to bring their babies to work until they reach 6 months old, she said.

Why cut the babies off at six months? “By the time they’re crawling. You can’t really baby-proof an office,” Baldwin said.

Erica Stineman, a communications consultant at the traffic safety commission, said having her 4-month-old daughter, Lydia, with her at work has eased her fears that she would miss watching her child develop.

“She just started rolling over, which is a milestone that kind of happens at four months,” Stineman said. “If she would have been at day care, I wouldn’t have been able to see that.”

Baldwin said that far from distracting from work at the office, Lydia’s presence has improved the office environment. People who may find themselves in heated discussion about work can’t help but crack a smile when they hear the baby cooing nearby, Baldwin said.

“From my point of view, she de-stresses the office in an amazing way,” said Baldwin, who occasionally steps in to watch Lydia briefly when Stineman has a meeting or needs to make a phone call. “I think everyone would say she has not been an interruption – she’s been an enhancement.”

Baldwin said that while early on Lydia seemed content to stay close to mom in a front-facing baby carrier, she now may rest on a pillow on her mom’s lap while her mother types, or in a baby swing that her mom brings to the office. The infant has been known to fall asleep on a pink blanket on a conference table, and last week fell asleep in her mother’s arms while Stineman was leading a meeting, Baldwin said.

“We passed her around, and then she fell asleep,” Baldwin said. “And Mom was actually facilitating the meeting, and it all worked.”

It’s unclear whether other state agencies may embrace similar policies soon, or if some have already.

Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the governor’s office isn’t aware of any other agencies that have enacted baby-friendly workplace policies, but that it’s something the governor encourages.

“It’s an enormous benefit to new parents and one the governor absolutely supports,” Smith wrote in an email.

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