The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding in Public and the Workplace

Did you know the AAP now supports continued breastfeeding until two years or beyond, as mutually desired by mother and child? Moreover, according to a survey done by the CDC, 2/3 of respondents support breastfeeding in public. Yet many mothers feel stigma, lack of support, and workplace barriers are obstacles that hinder continued breastfeeding success.

Breastfeeding or pumping in public places can be stressful with many moms still discriminated against by 24% of Americans who deem any kind of breast exposure as inappropriate. This is especially true for first time new mothers trying to provide for their babies. In fact, a survey found that 61% of people think it’s unacceptable to breastfeed or breast pump in a restaurant.

Marking a milestone in women's working civil rights, The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act recently passed the senate in 2022, which provides protection and expands access to all pregnant and lactating mothers. The Acts require organizations provide reasonable time and space for nursing mothers as well as accommodations for medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. These legislations are steps in the right direction of breaking workplace barriers for pregnant women so they are no longer treated as expendable.

Let's take a closer look at how breastfeeding/pumping in public or at work is a mother's right and why employers would benefit from supporting breastfeeding mothers.

Breastfeeding in Public Is a Mother’s Right

If you’re worried about comments from others telling you to “cover up,” it is important to know that you have the legal right to continue nursing in public, despite the negative stigma surrounding it.

In fact, the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019 requires certain public buildings to provide a shielded, hygienic space (other than a bathroom) with a place to sit, a working surface, and an electrical outlet to express milk. All 50 states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have breastfeeding state laws that specify women’s rights to breastfeed in any general public space (such as shopping malls, restaurants, cafes) locations. 

In addition, these laws require an employer to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for their nursing child up to one year after the child's birth. Employers must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for employees to express breast milk.

Breastfeeding or Pumping at Work

Did you know that there are many benefits for employers who support their breastfeeding mothers? Research shows that providing a lactation support program is not only highly desired by those who return to work after childbirth, but it can also improve your company’s ROI by  decreasing overall turnover rates and saving money in healthcare costs/employee expenses. 

Unfortunately, many working moms still face challenges such as lack of company policy, communication, and support related to maternity leave & workplace lactation benefits. Another survey shows that 47% of breastfeeding moms in the workplace who need to pump at work has made them consider a job/career change.

What does this mean for you as a breastfeeding mother returning to the workplace? It’s important to know your breastfeeding rights and be ready to start conversations around the benefits employers reap from improving their maternity & lactation policies. Other ideas include:

  • Communicating with coworkers who have previously breastfed at the company to hear about their experiences.
  • Before maternity leave, scheduling a meeting with your supervisor or human resources to discuss breastfeeding intentions & determine what policies are already in place.
  • Providing your employer with a list of everything you will need to successfully pump.
  • Proposing a dedicated, on-site pumping room.
  • Know your rights. This is crucial for any breastfeeding mum. Carrying a copy of your state's breastfeeding laws in your diaper bag can be helpful in the event you become subjected to unwanted attention.

As an employer, a few basic actions that can be taken to provide pumping & breastfeeding support to employees include, but are not limited to:

  • Writing clear, comprehensive breastfeeding policies & benefits and discussing with employees before parental leave begins.
  • Creating a positive & supportive environment by asking your employees what they need and discussing these needs with relevant personnel.
  • Providing access to an on-site, comfortable, safe place for breast pumping.
  • Allowing flexible breaks for mothers to express breast milk as needed.

Tips for Breastfeeding in Public

The benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby are well documented. Breast milk helps protect babies from a variety of illnesses, such as SIDs, asthma, ear infections, and even lowers rates of respiratory tract infections, severe diarrhea, obesity, and more! 

Breastfeeding women also see benefits such as having a lower risk of developing type two diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer following childbirth.

Some moms find that publicly breastfeeding is easy, while others are not as comfortable. No matter how you feel as a nursing mother, there will more than likely come a time when breastfeeding in public is much easier than finding a private place to nurse. Because of this, here are a few tips for women who choose to breastfeed in public:

  • Know your rights. This is crucial for any breastfeeding mum. Carrying a copy of your state's breastfeeding laws in your diaper bag can be helpful in the event you become objected to unwanted attention.
  • Do your research on where you can breastfeed. It is important to make a list of places that are near you and that would work well for nursing moms. Shopping malls, department stores and babywear shops often have private spaces with a comfy chair and changing facilities. Even store dressing rooms are a private space when needed.
  • Dress for the occasion. Wear clothes that allow easy access to your breasts, such as tops that pull up from the waist or button down. Nursing tops that button from the bottom up, lift up, or pull to the side easily are also popular choices.
    Invest in a nursing scarf or wrap that can offer coverage for when a private room isn’t available. A blanket or nursing cover can also be used. If you do decide to use one, make sure it’s well-ventilated (to avoid overheating) and baby has room for easy feeding.
  • Wear your baby in a sling, wrap, or carrier. By doing this, it can make breastfeeding on the go much easier and gives you the ability to continue what you are doing without stopping to nurse! Some baby wearing techniques even give your baby direct access to your breast.
  • Prep pumped milk ahead of time. This is always an option if you know ahead of time you won’t have a comfortable space to nurse or if you are uneasy about breastfeeding publicly all together.

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Tips for Breast Pumping at Work

Looking for ways to avoid pumping disasters at work? Some are unavoidable but there are ways to minimize the chance of something stressful occurring on the clock.

  • Keep extra parts & supplies at work. This can include but is not limited to pump parts, flanges, valves, clean bottles or storage bags, etc. By having extra on hand, you won’t have to worry in the event you forget something at home or if a part becomes lost or damaged.
  • Put a blanket on your lap while you pump. Spilling milk that you worked hard to pump is a tragedy and having to go back to your desk with breast milk all over your clothing is not fun. Not to mention the usual leaks and drops that occur when disconnecting your pump. Using a blanket or cover of some sort will catch any stray drops that come out of the pump and make any larger spills less disastrous.
  • Feel free to lock the door to the pumping room. Every pumping and working mother has a million things going on in her head at any given time. At the same time, being walked in on by a coworker when you're pumping can be uncomfortable.

Essential Products for Comfortable Breastfeeding

To make breastfeeding your little one as easy as possible, here are some essential supplies and accessories to help you feel more comfortable when breastfeeding or pumping in public:

Despite a percentage of people believing public breastfeeding is inappropriate, it is important to normalize this beautiful journey between mothers and their babies.

In order to ensure that nursing mothers feel safe & have the support they need to provide for their babies feeding needs, and to ultimately normalize the act of breastfeeding, it’s essential that we continue to talk about the challenges breastfeeding moms still face, push for more reliable information & resources, demand that these rights are protected, and fight for positive policy changes surrounding lactation support.