If you are a new mom and are returning to work soon, don’t think your breastfeeding days have to come to an end! Here are a few things you need to know about your legal rights, as well as a few tips for making pumping at work as painless as possible.
Since Andrew is now a year old, we have started the weaning process. I plan to continue morning and nighttime nursing sessions for a while, but I am dropping the daytime feedings. (This is how I weaned Aidan, and it worked well for us.) There are a few things I will miss about breastfeeding – the connection, the ability to calm him down instantly, the availability of food no matter where we are, etc. However, there are definitely a few things I will NOT miss, the biggest one being pumping at work.
Yes, pumping at work is a major pain in the rear end. But it is also absolutely necessary for keeping up a good supply after a full day of work. So, as inconvenient as it was at times, it was something I was committed to doing for my babies. And fortunately, my place of employment has always been very accommodating of it.
If you don’t work in such a family-friendly environment, or you’re unsure about pumping at work, this is a post you must read. In it, I will walk you through your legal rights for pumping at work and give you my best tips for productive pumping sessions. I can’t promise you that it will be hassle-free, but I hope that it will make it a little less frustrating. Because you deserve it, momma!
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Legal Rights for Pumping at Work
I am extremely fortunate to work for a woman who always supports my decisions to put my family first and has accommodated (and even encouraged) my pumping breaks at work. I love working in such a family-friendly environment. However, not every business has this attitude, and many breastfeeding moms encounter resistance to their desire to pump at work (which is essential to maintaining a good milk supply).
That’s why it’s important to know your legal rights for pumping at work. In 2010, legislators amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to include a requirement that employers allow break times for nursing mothers to express breast milk. This provision has helped thousands of moms across the country continue breastfeeding their babies after returning to work.
Here are the details of the Break Time for Nursing Moms requirement:
Who is covered?
Most hourly (non-salaried) employees. Business with fewer than 50 employees can apply for an undue hardship exemption, in which case they must prove that following the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law would cause “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” The burden of proof is on the employer, and until they are approved for exemption, they must follow the requirements.
Salaried employees are currently not covered. However, if you are salaried or part of the exempt group, you may still be covered by a state law. Also, the Department of Labor strongly urges ALL employers, regardless of their status, to comply with the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.
However, there is a bill being introduced right now called the Supporting Working Moms Act that would expand coverage to millions of other working moms, including salaried employees. Click here to learn more about the bill and how you can show your support.
What kind of space can I use?
Under the law, employers must provide a space that is not a bathroom that is private and free from intrusion (no one can see inside or walk in without your permission.) It does not have to be a permanent space dedicated to pumping, but it does need to be available whenever you need it.
How much time do I get?
Because pumping times and frequencies vary, the law does not specify the the amount of time employers must allow, just that they give “reasonable time” each time you pump. This includes time to set up, express the milk, clean up, and pack up your supplies. These break times do not have to be paid. However, if your job offers paid breaks, you can use your breaks to pump and be paid as usual. While pumping, you should be “completely relieved of duty,” or else you should be paid for that time.
How many breaks can I take?
Again, because the necessary frequency varies for each woman (and baby), the law is not specific about the number of breaks a nursing mother can take. Ideally, you should pump for every missed feeding. (I didn’t always do this, but I made up for them in the morning or evening, and I never went more than 4 hours in the early months.) However, you should keep in mind that your absence does cost the business in lost productivity. So while you should definitely take care of your baby’s needs, you should also be considerate of your company’s interests.
How long am I covered?
Eligible nursing mothers are covered for one year from the birth of their baby.
Additional Resources & Information:
- http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/coalitions-directory | Directory of breastfeeding coalitions by state
- https://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/faqBTNM.htm | Break Time for Nursing Mothers FAQ from U.S. Department of Labor
- http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/workplace-law | United States Breastfeeding Committee, “What is the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law?” Workplace Support in Federal Law
- http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx | Breastfeeding laws by state
- https://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/ | Wage and Hour Division Break Time for Nursing Mothers webpage
Helpful Tips for Productive Pumping at Work
Now that you know your legal rights for pumping at work, how can you make it the best experience possible? Here are nine tips I’ve learned from the many pumping sessions I’ve had to do:
Create a relaxing atmosphere
This is key to a productive pumping session. Stress and anxiety affect your milk supply, so it’s important to be as relaxed as possible. Lock the door so you don’t worry about being walked in on (trust me – I speak from experience!!). Eliminate other distractions. Have someone hold your calls. Whatever is necessary for you to relax for the next 10-15 minutes – do it.
When I pumped during Aidan’s first year, I continued to take phone calls and do work while I pumped. I decided the second time around not to do that. The difference in the amount of milk I pumped was significant, and I think that had a lot to do with it.
Take a deep breath
Step two is closely related to step one. The first thing I always did when sitting down to pump was take a deep breath to relax. I made a conscious effort to set aside everything else and forget about work for a few minutes.
Look at pictures of your baby
Some people swear by this, and other people say it’s bologna. I don’t know that it made a huge difference, but I did notice that it stimulated the let-down a few times. At the very least, it’s fun to look at your baby when you’re missing him/her during the day, right?
Have something to do
Let’s face it – pumping is boring. You just sit there, listening to the sounds of the motor for 15 straight minutes. It’s much less annoying when you have something to do. Grab your phone, read a book, or (even better) take the time to think, dream, relax, or pray!
Don’t forget to watch your bottles!!
Again, I speak from experience. Keep an eye on those bottles as you’re filling them, especially if you’re typically a high-producer! Twice I have overfilled my bottles and ended up with milk all over my lap. Not fun. (And slightly embarrassing when your coworkers ask what happened to your pants.)
Bring a cooler
Breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to six hours. Depending on what time you pump and when you will be returning home, you may not have to worry about storage. However, it’s nice to have a cooler or fridge to store your milk when you’re done, just to be on the safe side.
If you don’t have a place to wash your pump parts between sessions, consider getting some pump and accessory wipes.
Keep your pump out
If possible, keep your pumping station set up for the next session. Cover it with a nursing cover, blanket, towel, or other kind of cover.
Buy extra bottles
Have a good stash of bottles at home so you always have a few clean and ready to go. You do not want to be packing your bag in the morning only to realize that all your bottles are in the fridge or dishwasher (again … experience).
Packing your pumping bag
- Pump (of course) and accessories
- Enough bottles to cover all pumping sessions
- Extra nursing pads
- Battery pack (just in case)
- Cooler bag & ice pack
- Sanitizing wipes or bags
- Phone or something to do
- Pictures of your baby
Here is a handy printable checklist you can use to make sure you have everything you need before you leave:
Download the checklist HERE!
Pumping at work is no mom’s favorite activity. I’ll be flat-out honest – it’s a hassle, and one I won’t miss. But it’s necessary for maintaining a good milk supply, and when we think about it that way, the sacrifice is a little less annoying. I hope you now have a better understanding of your legal rights and feel more comfortable with doing what you need to do to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
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