Returning to work after maternity leave is a big adjustment for any new mom. And if you’re breastfeeding, figuring out how and when to pump at work presents a whole new set of challenges. It might take some time to settle into your new routine, but with the right tools and mindset, pumping at work will become just another part of your day.
Here’s what you need to know about your rights when it comes to pumping at work and tips to help it go smoothly.
Pumping at Work: Know Your Rights
Federal law requires employers to provide break time and a private space that is not a bathroom for hourly employees to pump breast milk at work for up to one year after a child’s birth. If you are not an hourly employee, don’t panic. Many employers provide these protections to all their employees, not just those considered hourly. You may also be protected by state law depending on where you live. You can contact your state or local breastfeeding coalition to find out more about local protections for pumping at work where you live.
The law requires employers to provide a space that is not a bathroom to pump at work; however, this does not have to be a permanent space. According to the law, any space that is “shielded from view” and fits a chair and a flat surface for pumping equipment qualifies as a private space for expressing breast milk.
If you’re an hourly employee and your employer is not providing adequate break time or a private space to pump, here are some steps you can take:
- First, talk with your human resources (HR) department. Many workplaces want to accommodate working parents, but some may not be familiar with the needs of breastfeeding moms. This can be an opportunity to educate others in the workplace about the importance of a lactation support policy.
- Go up the chain of command. If your employer still isn’t allowing you to pump at work after you’ve gone to HR, you can file a complaint with the S. Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing worker protection laws by visiting www.dol.gov/whd or by calling 1-800-487-9243.
“Federal law requires employers to provide break time and a private space that is not a bathroom for hourly employees to pump breast milk at work for up to one year after a child’s birth."
8 Tips for Pumping at Work
Figuring out how to pump at work can feel like a juggling act, but there are ways to express the breast milk your baby needs and continue to do your job well. Here are eight tips and tricks for pumping at work and how to make the process a bit easier on yourself.
- Practice open communication with your boss. It can be difficult to talk with your boss about your needs in the workplace as a new mom, but the sooner you can bring it up, the better. Explain that you will need time and space to pump breast milk and offer some ideas about how to make it work. Try to start the conversation during pregnancy before you go on maternity leave. This will give your boss time to make arrangements for a lactation space and factor pumping breaks into your day when you return.
- Make a plan for storage. Talk with your boss or your HR department about your options for storing expressed milk. If your office has an employee break room with a fridge, that might be an option. If not, you can bring an insulated bag or a cooler and ice packs to store your expressed milk. Just remember to put it in the fridge or freezer and soon as you get home.
- Create a schedule. Nurse your baby in the morning before you go to work, and then plan your pumping sessions during the day for when your baby would be eating if you were together. How much you’ll need to pump at work will vary for everyone, but generally speaking, every three to four hours is typical. Set alarms or reminders on your phone, so you don’t get too caught up in work and forget. As you get further into your breastfeeding journey, you may also be able to experiment with spacing out pumping times—just be cautious, as you don’t want to impact your supply. Everyone is different, but some pumping parents are able to space out pumpings without diminishing their supply, while others will need a regular, consistent schedule. Not having regular pump breaks can also run the risk of your breasts getting engorged and you ending up with clogged ducts or mastitis, which can be very painful and cause you to miss work.
- Grab the right gear. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurance plans to cover the cost of a breast pump. Contact your insurance provider to learn more about your breast pump options and which types are available to you for free. In addition to a breast pump and parts, a hands-free pump like the Elvie or Willow pump or a pumping bra for hands-free pumping can make pumping at work easier and quicker by allowing you to pump both sides at the same time. A pumping storage bag can also help transport your supplies back and forth from the office to home.
- Choose the right clothing. If the idea of stripping down at work to pump doesn’t appeal to you, try to add versatile, nursing-friendly attire to your wardrobe. Invest in some button-up blouses or wrap dresses that easily loosen and retie. A layered look of a sweater or a V-neck top over a nursing tank can also allow you to pump discreetly while still looking put together.
- Try to relax. It can be hard to get your breast milk flowing if you’re stressed, so take some time to transition from work to your pumping space. Take some deep breaths, do a short meditation or open up a relaxing Spotify playlist. Looking at photos of your baby while you pump can also help trigger your letdown and allow you to feel close to your baby even while you’re apart.
- Hydrate. Staying properly hydrated and well-nourished can also help boost your supply, so don’t forget to eat and drink. Carry a water bottle with you at work and pack some extra snacks, like granola bars or small packages of nuts to keep yourself fed between meals.
- Don’t panic if you experience a dip in supply. It isn’t uncommon for moms to experience a dip in their supply when they return to work. Adding an additional pumping session in the evenings or on the weekends could help boost your supply. Your body is likely to have the most milk in the morning after your baby’s longest stretch of sleep, so you could also add a pumping session after your baby’s morning feed to boost your supply. And don’t forget to nurse your baby when you get home—chances are, you both probably need that time together!
Is Pumping at Work Worth It?
Pumping is truly a labor of love, and it’s no easy feat to balance the demands of pumping while also working. Planning your day around pumping, wrangling pump parts to and from work and stashing away as much milk as you can takes time, effort and sacrifice. Whether you pump for three days or three months, it’s an achievement worth celebrating.
On the other hand, if you find pumping at work too stressful or decide you just don’t want to do it, there’s no shame in stopping. Formula is a perfectly valid and nutritional food source for your baby and if quitting pumping helps you feel like a happier mom, then more power to you.
Whether or not pumping at work is worth it to you is a personal decision and there is no right answer. If it’s what you want, there are laws in place to protect your right to pump at work, and if you find it’s not right for you, you shouldn’t feel ashamed about stopping.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you get fired for pumping at work?
In most cases, no. If you are an hourly employee, federal law protects your right to pump at work. If you are not an hourly employee, you may still be protected by state law or a local ordinance.
What are my rights for pumping at work?
The law requires employers to provide “reasonable break time” and a private space that is not a bathroom to express breast milk. The law does not require employers to compensate you for this time, but if your workplace would otherwise give you a paid break, then they still have to pay you if you choose to use your break to pump.
How long should my pumping sessions be at work
The law doesn’t define what “reasonable break time” and the amount of time needed to express breast milk differs for everyone, but in general, pumping takes about 15 to 20 minutes. It can take another 10-15 minutes or so to clean pump supplies and store parts.
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