Hey sweet momma friend. Returning to work does not have to mean the end of your breastfeeding journey if you do not want it to. Some women choose to end their breastfeeding when they return to work. However, if you want to continue on your journey we are here to help you make a pumping schedule, know your rights to pump at work, and give you tips to make it easier.
Knowing Your Rights When you Pump at Work
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed in 2010, includes a break time for nursing mothers. This part of the Fair Labor Standards Act guides the way companies must accommodate the needs of a nursing mother. It is important for you to know these requirements and the details of your workplace so that you can advocate for your rights.
This mother’s law specifically covers two things: Adequate time to pump, and appropriate location for pumping. There are limitations that need to be considered. First, this applies only to employers with 50+ employees. Second, this applies until the baby is one year of age.
This means that employers with less than 50 employees are NOT required to provide time and space to pump. This is only if they can prove that doing so would create hardship for the company. Also, after the baby turns a year old, the employer does not have to provide this time and space for the mother. Fortunately, some companies go above and beyond to provide for breastfeeding mothers. Unfortunately, many do not and many women are left with less-than-desirable conditions around trying to pump at work. If you fall into the category of having less than 50 employees at your workplace or the desire to pump past a year, you will have to have specific conversations with your employer.
It is also important to note that your state may have a separate policy around break time available to breastfeeding mothers.
Time to Pump at Work
There is no hard and fast time requirement listed in policies. The language states that mothers are to be given “adequate” time. We will talk below about your pumping schedule and deciding what frequency and time is needed. We will also talk more about tips you can use to save time setting up and cleaning up for your pumping sessions.
If your manager or decision-maker is not familiar with the needs of a pumping/breastfeeding mom after maternity leave, you may need to share the schedule and length you need in order to maintain the milk needed for your child. Keep in mind that for many women, getting a letdown while away from a baby can take longer than it would while you are with the baby. So, do not shortchange yourself as you make a schedule with your employer.
Is Time Used for Pumping at Work Compensated?
According to the US Department of Labor,
Employers are not required under the FLSA to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk. However, where employers already provide compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time. In addition, the FLSA’s general requirement that the employee must be completely relieved from duty or else the time must be compensated as work time applies.https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/nursing-mothers/faq
Space to Pump at Work
Finding space to pump at work can be one challenging factor for mothers returning to work. For some, there is a dedicated Mother’s Room available at the workplace. The accommodations can vary. On the great side, rooms with a comfy chair, a refrigerator, and a sink to help pumping mothers pump and store most effectively. Other places, may have a small space with a closed door. However, a separate space is not mandated by law. The location can be used for other purposes. But, it must be able to be a private space when needed by the mother.
It is stated, within the policies, that this space can not be a bathroom. Some of my clients have been part of an organization with a dedicated room with accommodating resources. Other clients of mine have had to pump in a multi-purposed closet.
Making a Schedule for Pumping at Work
When you are returning to work, you want to think about the frequency and duration of your baby’s feeds and try to mimic this.
If your baby is on a schedule of eating every 3-4 hours, you want to pump every 3-4 hours. If your child usually eats for 15 minutes, you want the duration of your pumping session to be around 15 minutes. Keep in mind, as you are planning and talking with your coworkers and management, the steps you need. You will need time to move to your pumping location, set up, pump for the needed duration, and clean up and return to work.
Many women try to pump right before work and right after work. This allows the mom to pump 1-2 times a day at work.
Your pumping sessions do not have to be at the exact same time that your baby is eating. But, you do want to keep a cadence that tells your body to continue to produce milk and allows it to keep a flow. You may work your pumping sessions around work meetings, lunch breaks, phone calls, etc.
Promoting Pumping When You Pump at Work
As mentioned above, things like being away from your baby and being under stress can make it more difficult for the breasts to have a letdown.
Here are a few tips to help you promote a letdown when you are at work:
- Bring a photo and/or video of your baby to produce oxytocin.
- Have a destress routine to allow your body and mind to relax.
- Start with a breast massage and/or warmer or use a tool like the lavie massager to help get the milk flowing.
- Drink water all day long! Keep the body hydrated so it can produce milk.
Related: Pumping Mom Must-Haves (Amazon List)
Ways to Save Time When You Pump at Work
If you are working with limited time when pumping at your workplace, every minute you save is helpful. Here are a few of our favorite tips to make pumping easier and save time.
- If you are unable to store your pump and supplies in the mother’s room, have it in a bag that is quickly accessible and ready to go. If you are able, keep a spare set of pump parts in this bag to avoid problems if you forget something at home.
- When you are able, utilize the fridge hack for your pump parts. This allows you to safely keep your parts in the refrigerator between pumping sessions, saving on cleaning time between sessions.
- Use sanitizing wipes or steambags to help you quickly sanitize as needed between sessions.
Returning to work after maternity leave makes breastfeeding more difficult for many women. However, momma, it does not have to be the end. If your workplace is understanding, supporting, and empowering, great! If your workplace is not, it is a great time to know your rights. Advocate for your needs and those of other working women. And, be a bold leader in the world of working mothers.
You can do this and we are always here to support you!