At Kansas SRS office, baby comes to work with mom

TOPEKA — Eileen Wiedwald is a good multitasker.

At the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Wiedwald determines eligibility for food, cash, child care and medical care assistance, which entails answering telephone calls, working on her computer and more. For six months, she has juggled those responsibilities with an even bigger one — taking care of her baby, Lillian, at work.

"It can be stressful," Wiedwald said of her job. "That's when I can say, 'I'm going to take five minutes and just look at my Lillie.' I'm basically a stay-at-home mom at work."

Wiedwald was nine months pregnant with her first child, William, when she joined the staff at SRS. Employees aren't allowed to take part in the Infants at Work program until they complete a six-month probation period. Thus, Wiedwald wasn't able to bring William to work with her. This time around, she took full advantage of the benefit.

"Ultimately I would love to be a stay-at-home mom," Wiedwald said this past week while bouncing Lillian on her lap. "But it just won't work. I'm so grateful for this experience. We take care of the families of Kansas. It's nice to know they (SRS) care about their employee family, too."

The number of baby-friendly companies is rapidly on the rise, said Carla Moquin, founder and president of Parenting in the Workplace Institute, which owns the Babies in the Workplace's website. The website is Moquin's brainchild. She started www.babiesatwork.org in 2007 after she had to return to work early after giving birth to her two daughters.

"I had a lack of options," she said. "That option (bringing her babies to work) could have been huge for me."

In December 2007, Moquin, who now lives in Salt Lake City, founded the institute to provide resources for businesses that wanted to implement a baby-friendly work environment but lacked the resources.

"All of these companies I was finding had done this from scratch," she said. "They had consistent ways to have a successful program but had to reinvent the wheel each time."

Today, the website lists more than 35 states that have a babies in the workplace program.

"Kansas is one of our biggest," Moquin said.

The idea began to catch on in Kansas after Kathleen Sebelius instituted a babies-at-work program at the Kansas Insurance Department in 1996, according to Moquin and previous news articles.

On average, babies come to work with their mothers and fathers until 6 to 8 months of age, or until they begin to crawl, Moquin said.

"In the workplace, babies overwhelmingly tend to be mellow and highly content," she wrote on the Parenting in the Workplace Institute website. "Within structured programs, a workplace environment contains keys to thriving, happy babies: parental closeness, social interaction, physical contact, highly responsive care and high rates of breastfeeding."

There are a variety of businesses across the United States that take part in baby-friendly workplaces, including offices, credit unions, legal offices, call centers, state and federal employers, school districts and retail stores, Moquin said.

"It is a wider range than what people think," she said. "With bank tellers, it would appear on first glance that it wouldn't work, but in practice, it is very successful. The babies have all of these different people to interact with. Babies actually attract customers. Customers will intentionally choose a longer line so they can see a baby when they get to the front. It makes it so much easier for women who are breastfeeding, too. I would say 90 to 95 percent of the mothers who do this are breastfeeding."

Lorrie Weber, corporate human resource manager for M-C Industries Inc. in Topeka, said she attended a human resource management meeting and learned about the idea from Sebelius.

"I tweaked it and customized it for us," she said.

M-C Industries started its Infants-at-Work program in December 2002. Employees are allowed to bring their babies to work until the child reaches the age of 4 months, Weber said.

"It has been wonderful," she said. "There have been some wonderful benefits. Women are great at multitasking. The really amazing, positive benefit is that co-workers become more than that. These are people they hand their infant to. We get a lot of good feedback from applicants and customers that they think it is very progressive."

Employees at M-C Industries and SRS who take part in the programs must have back-up caregivers for their child in case the worker needs to use the restroom, step away from their desk or attend a meeting.

More than 20 people have taken advantage of the M-C Industries program. There have been more than 120 people who have used the SRS program.

"We have never had to fire a baby," Weber said, jokingly. "But we do celebrate their retirements."

Six-month-old Lillian Wiedwald on Nov. 19 celebrated her retirement. She has spent nearly every day of the workweek happily bouncing beside her mother, sitting in her swing or sleeping.

"I'm probably going to cry," Eileen Wiedwald said the day before her daughter's going-away party. "She will go to day care with her brother. It's going to be an adjustment for her."

It also will an adjustment for Wiedwald's co-workers, who are used to being able to pop into Wiedwald's cubicle and see a smiling Lillian.

But Wiedwald and other co-workers already have signed up to be baby sitters for the next parents who decide to take part in the program.

"We have had as many as nine babies at one time," she said. "And several people are expecting."