Keys. Lunch. Laptop. Breast pump.
Returning to work after having a baby can mean pumping at the office, and since you’ll likely be away from your baby for two to three feedings, this means ensuring your work environment and worksite is set up to accommodate you. Health care professionals and lactation consultants will share the importance of pumping at work, which generally allows employees to maintain milk production and feeding schedules at home so baby has enough milk, build up their breast milk supply, and relieve pressure or discomfort in breasts.
Breastfeeding mothers also see faster rates of postpartum healing, stronger maternal bonds with their babies, and additional health benefits, including lower rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and more. Breast milk is easier on your baby's digestive system, has all of the nutrients, vitamins, fats, and proteins your baby needs, and even has antibodies to help keep them healthy. Breastfed babies also have reduced risks of ear infections, eczema, asthma, cancer, allergies, and more—some of these health benefits last their whole lifetime! They call it liquid gold for a reason.
Even when you’re prepared, you might still have questions about where to pump, how often you can pump, what is considered an adequate break time, and what accommodations you can expect. This article will discuss your rights to pumping at work and breastfeeding in public, sharing advice for both.
Your Right to Breastfeed in Public
Did you know that there are many benefits for employers who support their breastfeeding mothers? Research shows that providing a lactation support program and facilities for breastfeeding or pumping is not only highly desired by those who return to work after childbirth, but it can also improve job satisfaction and your company’s ROI by decreasing employee turnover rates and saving money in health care costs and employee expenses.
Unfortunately, many working moms who are pumping breast milk still face challenges such as a lack of company policy, communication, and support related to maternity leave and workplace lactation benefits. Another survey shows that 47% of working moms have had to consider a job or career change due to their need to pump or breastfeed at work.
Understanding Breastfeeding Laws
But what does this mean for you as a breastfeeding mother returning to the workplace? Understanding your breastfeeding rights now will prepare you for future conversations around the benefits employers can reap from improving their maternity and lactation policies. From finding public accommodations and dedicated lactation spaces to ensuring you have all of your equipment, deciding if you’re comfortable with public breastfeeding depends on several factors, many of which aren’t under your control.
One thing you can count on is your right to breastfeed in public, which was established through the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019. Through this act, the United States protects the right to breastfeed in public and private spaces, including businesses, airports, and other areas. The act also requires certain public spaces to provide a hygienic, shielded space—other than a restroom—to breastfeed. This space must include a place to sit, a working surface, and an electrical outlet to express breast milk.
These laws extend to employers who must also provide a place (other than a restroom) for breast milk expression. Additionally, employers must provide workers with reasonable time to express milk up to one year after a child’s birth. But even with these protections in place, some people may find it difficult to find lactation rooms or face uncomfortable comments from strangers.
Here are a few tips for breastfeeding in public:
Tips for Breastfeeding in Public
- Understand your rights. Find more information about your right to breastfeed in public by researching your state’s laws.
- Plan ahead when possible. Finding a list of places with adequate breastfeeding spaces is critical when out and about. If you know you’ll be in a certain area for an extended period, research nearby shops, restaurants, and businesses that will support breastfeeding, expressing milk, and changing babies.
- Dress for success. Nursing bras and tops are popular breastfeeding apparel, but you can branch out by wearing any type of clothing that provides your baby easy access to your breast for feeding.
- Invest in wraps, slings, or carriers. These items are not only designed to make breastfeeding easier wherever you are, but they also provide your baby direct access to your breast, free up your hands for other activities, and offer coverage and privacy when nursing rooms are unavailable.
- Prepare with pre-pumped milk. It may not always be possible to pump and carry milk with you, but for times when you know you’ll be far from nursing spaces or with limited access to private or comfortable spaces, pumping milk ahead of time is a lifesaver.
Pumping in the Workplace
It’s only been around 40 years since breastfeeding rights were written into law, and in that short time, technology, acceptance, and accommodations have improved for mothers who pump at work. But when you need to aim to breastfeed eight to 10 times a day, that means expressing milk every three hours, so you will likely have to pump two to three times at work. Even with so much progress made in recent years, many mothers still face stigmas, lack of support, and workplace barriers.
Remember, it is your right to pump at work and receive breastfeeding support services. Along with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Senate passed the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act under the U.S. Department of Labor in 2022. These two acts ensure employers outline lactation policies and protections that provide milk expression or pumping breaks, reasonable space for nursing mothers, and accommodations for any medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.
And because two-thirds of new mothers are in the workforce, lactation support for breastfeeding employees is essential to recruiting and retaining talent. This can improve a company’s brand image while saving money as a result of health care costs, employee expenses, and turnover rates. Check with your company to confirm adequate lactation support is in place and explain the legal reasons and benefits behind providing such support.
Accommodations for Breastfeeding Moms
Expectant mothers should know that lactation support and other health plans are part of maternity care and can be discussed with your superiors and HR department before starting your maternity leave and throughout the duration of breastfeeding. Use this time to go over your breastfeeding expectations and review a list of accommodations you’ll need to pump.
Even with support from management, your coworkers may not be on board or fully understand the needs of nursing moms and the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby. Keep a copy of your local breastfeeding laws on hand to share in case you receive unwanted attention, and ensure management has protocols to protect you. It also helps to reach out to coworkers who have breastfed and pumped at work before your maternity leave and when you return. Ask these experienced employees for their advice, hear their stories, and build a community of support.
But the burden shouldn’t solely fall on your shoulders. Employers should write and review breastfeeding policies to establish a positive, informed, flexible, and supportive environment. This can also include training for all employees or sharing additional information about how to show respect to breastfeeding moms and communicating expectations around reasonable break times. They should also ensure each employee knows where lactation rooms are located to provide privacy.
Tips for Pumping at Work
Work is stressful as it is. Adding a few breast-pumping sessions can introduce new challenges. Our advice below will help you avoid some added stressors.
- Be prepared. Whether manual or electric, breast pumps come with a lot of small parts, plus the flanges, valves, bottles, breast milk storage bags, and any cleaning or sanitizing products. Ensure you have extra parts at the office or in your bag to avoid missing items and throwing off your pumping schedule.
- Protect your clothing. Pumping may be messy. Avoid spills, leaks, and splashes by putting a blanket over yourself while pumping and have a change of clothes on hand—just in case.
- Make yourself feel comfortable. Lock the door, find a chair you like, and play some music. You’re pausing your work day to pump milk for your baby—it’s important! But it can also be stressful for many reasons. Prioritizing your comfort in any way you can will help make the experience better.
Just because you’re not at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find ways to make breastfeeding or pumping comfortable. A breast pump backpack with an insulated cooler will safeguard all of your pumping supplies, ice packs, bottles, and accessories, while a dedicated cooler bag will safely store your milk. A wet/dry bag provides a clean space to quickly and easily set up and take down your breast pump parts.
The true heroes of breastfeeding on the go are hands-free pumps, pumping bras, and nursing bras. Nursing pads, milk collection cups, and silicone pumps help to keep you dry and leak-free while wipes clean up your products. For additional comfort, bring nipple shields, a travel nursing pillow, and any other items that can help ease the process for you.
Aeroflow x Lansinoh Pumping Room Makeover
With new moms returning to work in record numbers, many find that their work environment isn't conducive to a successful breast-pumping experience. We can do better! That's why we've partnered with Lansinoh to provide a $10,000 Pumping Room Makeover to one winning business.
And the winner is… North Carolina Partnership for Children!
Along with the makeover, we provided a gift basket with a Lansinoh Wearable Pump, HPA® Lanolin, Organic Nipple Balm, Soothies Gel Pads, Lansinoh Silicone Breast Pump, 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Packs, Stay Dry Disposable Nursing Pads, Washable Nursing Pads, Lansinoh Manual Pump, Breastmilk Storage Bags, and Feeding Bottles. Four other lucky winners received these same goodies!
Congratulations again to the North Carolina Partnership for Children on winning our giveaway. We can’t wait to see how you transform your space.
We still have a long way to go in normalizing and supporting breastfeeding in public and pumping at work. As more and more moms talk about their experiences and raise their voices, we can expect to see even greater changes to the stigmas surrounding breastfeeding, increasing support, accessibility, and resources for everyone.
Not sure about your state’s laws regarding breastfeeding in public and at work? Check out the laws for each state here.