For any mother, the decision to return to work is one that is inevitably filled with lots of unknowns. The complexity of this decision is compounded ten-fold for the breastfeeding mother. Navigating breastfeeding in the workplace is enough to leave any new mom overwhelmed and anxious. Here are some key points that will help the new Breastfeeding/Working-Mother make a smooth transition.
The Law is on Your Side
The National Conference of State Legislatures has a summary on their website of the breastfeeding rights in all 50 states as well as their rights under federal law. It is helpful to check that site to see what the laws are protecting your rights as a breastfeeding mother in the workplace. One point from this site, specifically related to breastfeeding in the workplace, worth underscoring is that:
“Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires an employer to provide a place, other than a bathroom, and reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk every time she needs to for her nursing child for one year after the birth.”
For more information, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet on Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA
Talking to Your Employer
Understanding your rights inevitably makes the conversation with your employer a little easier. You should give your employer ample notice (approx. two weeks) before you return to work about your needs as a breastfeeding mother. Where and what type of work you do will determine your specific needs. However, there are a few questions you will want to think about to begin creating a general plan of action. A recent article from Lauran Neergaard in The Huffington Post about the Surgeon General’s push to lessen the obstacles for breastfeeding/working mothers highlights these questions. I have included my answers to provide an example of what a possible outcome might look like.
Where will you pump? Do you need a private room other then your office? For me as a teacher returning to work, I could not use my office or classroom to pump because it was a shared space. My employer provides a room attached to our nurse’s office with a chair and an outlet for nursing mothers.
How long will it take you to pump and how many times a day will you need to? As a teacher I have to schedule my pumping schedule around my class load. I am fortunate to have three 39 minute breaks in my schedule that I use for planning and lunch. I was able to schedule my pumpings in those breaks. I have found on days when there are meetings and no classes, however, it takes a bit more juggling and excusing myself to get in my two 15 minute pumps during the day. I recommend timing your pumping process before you return to work so you can get to know your needs better. Some may require less time but more frequent pumping sessions.
Will you be expected to carry on your same workload? What accommodations may you need from your employer in order to complete those duties? I am expected to still use my preparatory periods the way they were intended. I asked to use a laptop that I could take with me to the private room so I could grade and plan lessons.
Where will you store your expressed milk? This is more for your own planning then a question for your employer. You can look on Kellymom for breastmilk storage guidelines to determine what resources you will need to keep your milk fresh. I use a cooler and bottles to store the milk until I get home. Then I use a dry-erase marker to label the date so I know what is fresh and how long it has been stored.
Be Prepared to Change Plans
In no way am I saying moms should plan to stop breastfeeding. What I am saying is that you need to prepare yourself to reassess your plan each week to see if it is truly working for you. Do you need to ask for more time during the day? Do you need better pumping equipment in order to pump more or pump faster? Are you able to get all of your work done during the day with the addition of pumping? Make your situation work for you.
Keeping all of this in mind, the best reward you can give yourself and your child after you return to work is to continue nursing regularly at home. The first thing I do when I arrive home is to take my son straight to our nursing chair. In those early days, some sessions lasted up to an hour – nursing, cuddling and nursing some more. Here is what I had to say after my first day back at work. That was back in September and I am still going strong, as I am pumping to maintain my nursing relationship.
Additional resources for further information:
WorkandPump.com: a website dedicated to information for breastfeeding mothers who have returned to the workplace.
Amazon.com has several books on how to make nursing and returning to work “work” for you.
Photo Credit: Author