Women compromised about one third of the workforce in 2020 prior to the pandemic. The last few years have caused many women to question whether it is worth it to stay in the workforce or take a step back. I know for myself personally working a few days a week is necessary to be the woman and mother that I desire to be. This will be different for everyone but if you want to or need to continue to work as a mother it is essential to know what your pumping rights at work are as a breastfeeding mom.
I will admit I was never able to keep up my milk production for either of my children when I returned to work. I was supplementing with formula most of their first year. Breastfeeding was something important to me so I did breast feed between 6-9 month with both of my children. I wish I had known more about my pumping rights and felt more empowered to advocate for my children. Although I don’t believe in shaming myself for my past choices (I did the best I could with the knowledge I had), I know I would do things differently in the future now that I know my pumping rights at work.
- Why do you need to know your rights?
- What are your rights at work?
- How to talk to your employer
Table of Contents
Why is Understanding Your Rights Important?
I am a big proponent of advocating for yourself. One of the biggest roles I have played in my career as a nurse is being an advocate for those that cannot advocate for themselves. I speak up for patients and family members on a regular basis and encourage them to use the voice that they have to get what they need. The best way to stand up for yourself and your needs is to know what your pumping rights at work are. Once you know what you are entitled to it gets a lot easier to speak up and ask for those things.
The transition to work after having a baby can be very challenging. I found myself trying to balance working in a fast paced environment and keeping up a milk supply for my child. It was not an easy task. I was afraid to speak up for myself because I didn’t want to seem like I couldn’t handle my job after having a baby. I wanted to be the same employee that was looking for opportunities to help others and my boss could depend on. I was often the employee that was given the harder assignments and asked to train new employees. Trying to be the exact same person I was prior to maternity leave made it difficult to succeed with breast feeding. You don’t have to be the same person and honestly what they say is true, “you will never be the same.” You have two very important jobs now and I want you to be successful at both.
What Are My Pumping Rights at Work?
It is essential that you know what your rights are in the workplace so that you can advocate for yourself. If you don’t advocate for yourself no one will. It doesn’t mean you have to create a confrontation but if you know your rights you can confidently request the things you are entitled to. Below is the laws from the Fair Labor Standard Act Subsection 7 that lay out pumping rights at work for women in the workplace.
- Federal law requires that employers provide reasonable break time to express milk up until one year of life.
- Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.
- An employer shall not be required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent for such purpose.**
- There are some exemptions to what kind of employees are covered under the law. Including employers that employ less than 50 employees are not be subject to the requirements if such requirements would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.
- States may have protections for working mothers that will be provided as an addition to the federal laws. So look into your states particular laws.
How Can You Talk with Your Employer About Pumping at Work?
I always advise people to talk to their employer before they return to work and make a plan with them so that your first day back will be less stressful. Make sure you approach them with the attitude of working together. Most employers are going to be happy to provide you with support. They also may not be as familiar with the your pumping rights at work or as aware of what your needs may be depending on their own life experiences so you may have to come prepared to educate them. So going into your conversation:
- come prepared with suggestions
- explain your basic needs
- show how meeting your breastfeeding needs will benefit the company
- be prepared to address any concerns that your employer might have
- show appreciation for the efforts made by your supervisor
If you need any specific suggestions on what you can see the US Breastfeeding committee has some great suggestions on their online Workplace Guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Remember you are not the only woman going back to work after having a baby. You are not alone. Talk with some of your coworkers or friends that have gone through navigating pumping at work. Listen to their suggestions and familiarize yourself with your sate pumping rights at work.
There is still limitations and blockades that continue to make pumping at work difficult. However, many people are continuing to improve the federal rights given to women that want to pump at work. So continue to look for changes in law as others continue to advocate for that change.
Remember you can do hard things! Now that you are aware of your rights you have what you need to advocate for yourself and your child to have a successful breastfeeding journey.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.