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Postpartum, Pumping & Breastfeeding, Working Moms

How to Pump at Work: Your Rights, Access, and Support as a Breastfeeding Mom

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.

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.

Find all the details on making a pumping schedule, check out my recent post on the Zulily Blog

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Find all the details on making a pumping schedule, check out my recent post on the Zulily Blog

Working Moms

Improved Maternity Leave in the US Could Save Lives

Imagine a world where women did not have to rush their body recovery after giving birth. A world where women did not have to choose between feeding their babies and going back to the workplace. A place where women are given the time and support to mentally and emotionally recuperate after a huge life transition. Imagine fathers and partners with more opportunities to get to know the newborn and help their partner heal. Where employee turnover rates after birth were not so high. This is imagining a world with maternity leave policies that support and care for families.

Get it now: 5 Questions to Ask Before Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

We Should Not Have to Dream of Better Maternity Leave

To cut to the point we should not have to imagine this. We should be able to live it. The United States is a progressive country. An adequate maternity leave and parental leave policy should not be hard to imagine. According to the UNICEF Office of Research, the United States falls last on parental leave policies of high and middle-income countries. The United States is the only country in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave. How progressive. How “land of the free, home of the brave.”

This is bullshit.

As a Postpartum and New Mom Coach, I get to work with clients around the world. Most of my clients are in the United States. These clients face the struggle of deciding if and when to take maternity leave, and how to make up for unpaid time off. My clients from other countries come with different experiences. Places like Canada, France, and Ireland (to name a few places I have had clients from), share their maternity leave with a different approach. You can see how the US compares to other countries when it comes to maternity leave policies.

The Result of Shitty Maternity Leave in the United States?

-Increased rates of mental health struggles.
-Increased rates of divorce or marriage strain.
-Decreased rates of breastfeeding.
-More turnover within the workplace.
-Unaddressed pelvic floor issues.
-Higher rates of infant mortality.

Yes, lack of maternity leave is a deadly problem in the United States and one of the most pro-life things we can do is to address and improve parental leave and care.

In a recent study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16% of employees in 2018 had access to paid family leave. SIXTEEN PERCENT. That is not a lot. This same study found that 88% of employees had access to unpaid family leave (FMLA). This leaves 12% with nothing to protect their job if they decide to take any time off for the birth of a child. For those of you who have not birthed a child, allow me to include here that it is no small task. Time to recover without losing your job should not be a luxury. Time to recover, maintain your job, and get paid should not be a luxury.

There are currently only 8/50 US States, and the District of Columbia which have a State Paid Family Leave law. These laws differ by state, but go beyond the federal laws and offerings.


The Struggles We Face With Poor Maternity Leave

When we are not providing adequate coverage for women after giving birth, we are taking away from her and her family, and our society as a whole.

Our capitalistic values can only go so far before we hit a wall and see a breakdown in families and individuals. We are already seeing it.

Infant Mortality & Wellness

According to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, the implication is made that “Providing a needs-based income replacement policy to mothers who wish to take parental leave after the birth of a child may be the best policy to decrease IMR for infants from all socioeconomic backgrounds.” There are a number of factors that could impact this outcome. The mental health of the mother being a big factor. Another leading factor is when a mother has paid leave time, she is not forced to use all of her PTO for maternity leave, allowing her to save hours and days to attend necessary pediatric appointments and keep tabs on her baby’s wellness.

Women can also experience healthier prenatal care when they are not concerned with saving all of their paid or unpaid work leave for the postpartum period.

Mental Health of Mothers

There are a number of factors when it comes to a mother’s postpartum mental health. When thinking about maternity leave there are direct impacts. One is the lack of rest a mom gets (in general) and even more when returning to work. The body takes around 18 months to heal. Hormones take months to regulate. Many moms find themselves more stressed with the pressures of childcare, logistics, fitting in appointments, breastmilk supply (if applicable), and more.


For families who choose to breastfeed, improved maternity leave policies lead to improved breastfeeding outcomes. A recent California study shows marked increase in breastfeeding duration for women who have paid medical leave.

Partner Involvement

This article is primarily focuses on maternity leave. However, it is important to also note the lack of overall parental leave (including partners) can lead to a lack of partner involvement. Retuning to work early can interfere with bonding and also make relationship balance difficult. Partners who are able to take that time for early bonding, interaction, and involvement are more likely to continue being involved parents.

Employee Morale and Turnover After Maternity Leave

If the benefits for the family are not enough (though they should be), companies and capitalism would benefit. High turnover happens around insufficient maternity leave policies. The cost of employee turnover includes trainings, the loss of knowledge from an existing employee, HR costs and beyond. Maintaining a good employee who is also a mother is in the company’s best interest.

Get it now: 5 Questions to Ask Before Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Female Workplace Leadership

Women who are able to return to their place of work once they have had sufficient time to recover and enter into motherhood are more likely to advance in their workplaces. The fear of losing a job from taking time off can impact the confidence and performance of a working parent, though women particularly feel this. Also, normalizing and standardizing maternity leave across companies would remove the pressure some women feel to return to work before their leave or not take their full leave in fear of losing opportunities or advancements.

What Women Have to Say About the Benefits of Improved Maternity Leave

Get it now: 5 Questions to Ask Before Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

I asked members of my community to share how paid maternity leave would have impacted their decisions and experience. Here are a few of the responses:

Back to Work with a 6 Week Old With No Sick Days

“The leave I had that was unpaid was nearly impossible. I had saved all my sick and vacation days and would have to pick to use one to three of those days a week just so I had some money coming in. Which meant I went back to work with a just six week old baby and absolutely no time off to use if either of us were sick. It added a lot of extra stress. Taking leave without pay is often a dicey choice and I couldn’t afford to lose my job. It just was an exhausting juggling feat.”

With my Third, I resigned.

I would have still had vacation/PTO to use later in the year, instead I had zero time off and had to work over to cover appointments until more time accrued. For my third I took FMLA until I officially resigned. FMLA was nice as it allowed us to slowly settle into a lower income and get a budget in order before I was totally cut off.

I Could have Returned to Work

I would have had money to save to eventually pay for a sitter /childcare, but instead, I just can’t afford to work. Of course, the cost of childcare is a whole separate issue, but at least this would have helped. Also, I might have felt valued as an employee and chosen to return to my prior workplace.

A Good Policy: Peace of Mind

I took 3 months and was paid by employer. They were fantastic. I did part time work to stay plugged in during the little’s naps, but I had so much peace of mind.

Two Different Maternity Leave Experiences

With Landon I did not have any paid maternity leave so I had to go back to work pretty quickly and even the little time I was off we racked up credit card bills. The amount of stress that I was under was crazy! And you know stress causes other problems to like lack of milk production which just made me stress even more that I wasn’t producing enough And I wasn’t back to work and we had 1 million bills. It was a viscous cycle.

Fast Forward 8 1/2 years and with this pregnancy I had maternity leave and disability pay because I was on bedrest and never went without a paycheck.. My overall pay was decreased because we get 80% of our total pay and I also was not working on the ambulance or at the college so there was 0% for that… Even the 80% was amazing we were able to readjust our lives. I was home all the time so we were eating in more and we were watching our spending and somehow during my leave we were actually able to even put Money into savings. Way less stressed this time around.

I Didn’t Take Care of Myself Because of Costs

Being first time parents is hard enough without added extreme financial struggles to the mix. I had postpartum anxiety and depression that I didn’t seek treatment for until a year postpartum because I worried it would cost too much. I wasn’t eating healthy foods because cheap foods are less healthy. My husband and I went on one date in the first year and one again during the second year.

Postpartum Depression

I had terrible postpartum (depression) that stemmed from having to leave my daughter before I was ready. I had 6 weeks of 60% pay from long term disability and 2 weeks of vacation. If I had been given the opportunity to stay home longer, I honestly think my mental health would not have suffered as significantly as it did. My mental health was the biggest area that was affected by short term “leave”.

America is Better than This: We Could Thrive With Improved Maternity Leave Laws & Policies

With all of this information both anecdotally and research-based, we can conclude that paid and sufficient maternity leave is beneficial for our society as a whole. Imagine a whole generation with adequate time to adjust and recover. There is progress happening on a number of fronts, but it cannot happen fast enough. If you believe in this, here are a few things you can do:

1. Share this post. Share it with friends, family, your HR director, on LinkedIn, etc.

2. Talk to your company about maternity leave policies. Ask what it would take for these policies to be approved.

3. Keep your eyes out for petitions and advocacy opportunities in your state or on a federal level.

4. Speak up. Use your voice and your story to continue the conversation and influence change. 

Get it now: 5 Questions to Ask Before Returning to Work After Maternity Leave