Breastfeeding can be a learning curve for any new mom. But for those heading back to work, it can take some additional planning. “Magical breastmilk allows you to be both places at once: work and with your baby via the bottle!” says Moorea Malatt, CLEC Lactation Counselor-Educator, Sleep Educator and Consultant at SavvyParentingSupport.com. “Still, it is important to stay realistic that keeping supply up while pumping and working requires thought, planning, and commitment.”
Working moms who breastfeed must make room in their schedule for pumping, find a good spot to pump (if one doesn’t already exist), and figure out where to store their milk. Practicality aside, they may deal with less-than-supportive managers or coworkers. We asked a few working moms about their experiences and compiled our best advice for successfully balancing work and breastfeeding.
5 Challenges Of Pumping At Work
We asked three working moms about the hardest things about pumping at work. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Scheduling Challenges. “Life happens, and things get in the way of pumping,” new mom Molly told us. Though coworkers were initially supportive of her schedule, they’d forget over time and schedule meetings that interfered with pumping time.
2. Time-Consuming Nature. “Breastfeeding while working is similar to having two full-time jobs,” new mom Sonya says. Molly agrees: “There is a lot of time eaten up each day by pumping, washing pump parts, thinking about the pump schedule and how that fits with daily activities, writing on bags to freeze extra, rearranging freezer contents to make milk fit, ordering new pump parts and bags, and reading tons of mom blogs on how to make pumping sessions more efficient,” she says.
3. Privacy Issues. Not every mom is fortunate enough to have a private space for pumping. New mom Kendal had to pump in a space that included restroom stalls and a shower. “I would sit in there pumping for two or three times a day, 20 minutes each time, listening to people go to the bathroom and take showers,” she recalls. Sometimes people would hear her pump whirring and poke their heads around the corner to see what she was doing.
4. Dipping Milk Supply. Molly noticed that her milk supply would dip if she became ill, didn’t drink enough water, experienced stress, or deviated from her pumping schedule. She combated the issue by taking Fenugreek (a seed used in herbalism) and doing her best to stay hydrated.
5. Requires Lots of Gear. Heading to the office sometimes feels like packing for an overnight trip. Moms need to bring a pump, pump part, hands-free bra, milk bags, bottles, a Sharpie, hand sanitizer, wipes, and so on. Whew!
Make A Plan For Pumping At Work
If you know you’ll return to work after your baby is born, it’s a good idea to make a plan early on. Consider these tips.
Prepare Yourself. While you’re still on maternity leave, you should work toward establishing a strong breastfeeding relationship so your milk supply holds up. You should also secure a high-quality breast pump and experiment with bottles to find which works best.
Communicate With Your Employer. Ask your HR department about the company’s lactation policies. Make sure you understand the guidelines regarding time and place. Many companies would also like you to write a letter outlining your lactation plan.
Practice Self-Care. It’s easy to become stressed when you’re juggling parenthood and work. Make sure you are eating nutritious meals and drinking enough water. Consider bringing along soothing music and a photo of your baby to make pumping easier. “Utilize the time you legally have to pump as a way to decompress, think about your gorgeous baby, and breathe deeply,” Malatt advises. “We let down (milk ready to flow) more quickly and easily and make more milk when we are relaxed.”
Breastfeeding Employees & The Law
Not every employer is familiar with the ins and outs of breastfeeding, so you may need to be proactive. “Know that you have the right to express comfortably and in privacy and for a reasonable amount of time, and stand up for yourself,” Malatt advises.
Thankfully for working mothers, laws exist to make breastfeeding and working more compatible. The federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law was enacted in 2010. It applies to most hourly wage earning employees and some salaried (nonexempt) employees. This law covers two key factors:
1. Time. When it comes to breastfeeding and pumping, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. This law stipulates that employers must provide “reasonable” break time for one year after a child is born.
2. Space. The law also stipulates that employers must offer a completely private space (“that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public”) that is not a bathroom. However, that doesn’t mean every employer must create a permanent space that is devoted solely to breastfeeding employees.
Are pump breaks paid or unpaid? The law does not require pumping breaks to be paid. But if an employee already receives paid breaks and pumps milk during those times (or during a meal break), wage would not be affected.
What about small businesses? The law says that any employer that employs fewer than 50 employees may not be subject to the requirements if they would “impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense.” Translation? If you’re working for a tiny company, it simply may not be possible for them to accommodate all your needs.
5 Features Of A Work Lactation Space
If no lactation room exists within your company, you may even have an opportunity to provide input. Keep in mind three traits when setting up a lactation room: private, safe, and clean. It cannot be a bathroom, and it must not be a space where coworkers or customers can see inside. It should also be comfortable, with good lighting and ventilation. Here are some elements to include:
1. Seating. You want a comfy chair that offers support for an employee to sit up straight to pump comfortably. (A squishy sofa is less than ideal!)
2. A spot for the breast pump. You need a flat surface for the pump (such as a countertop) as well as electrical outlet access.
3. Refrigerator access. You’ll need a small fridge nearby to keep pumped milk cold.
4. Sink access. This is necessary so employees can wash their hands and rinse their pump parts afterward. However, Malatt notes, “It is safe to store your pump parts in a bag in a fridge between pumpings so you don’t have to clean them multiple times.”
5. A locking door and/or “occupied” sign. This is important for privacy.
The above features are the minimum. Some employers go the extra mile when creating a lactation space. You might see footrests, clocks, mirrors, computer terminals or telephones, and even decor. If multiple employees are nursing babies, it’s also a good idea to set up a system to they can reserve the room: for instance, a Google calendar or sign-up sheet.
What If Your Employer Won’t Comply?
If your employer refuses to comply with the law, you can file a complaint by contacting the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD): Call toll-free 1-800-487-9243 or visit www.dol.gov/whd.
In order to file your complaint, you’ll need to tell them your name, address and phone number, the name of the company where you work (or worked), the company’s location and the phone number, the name of the manager or owner, what type of work you did, when and how you were paid, the birth date of your breastfeeding child, and a description of your concern.
Be assured the process is free and confidential. If you file a complaint, your employer cannot retaliate by firing you or discriminating against you.
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