Breastfeeding and the Working Mom

The multi-tasking ArtsyMama - expressing while at work.

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:

NPN: Feeding with Love and Respect

NPN: Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life a website dedicated to information for breastfeeding mothers who have returned to the workplace. has several books on how to make nursing and returning to work “work” for you.

Photo Credit: Author

About The Author: Shannon R

The_ArtsyMama My NPN Posts

Shannon R is a breastfeeding-cloth diapering-working-mother and devoted wife. She is expecting her second child in April. She blogs about breastfeeding, expressing at work and cloth diapering at The Artful Mama.

7 Responses to Breastfeeding and the Working Mom

  1. Alicia @ Lactation Narration  

    I work in a hospital (but not in patient care). I have pumped at work for both of my kids. Here are my answers:

    Where will you pump? Do you need a private room other then your office?
    I cannot pump at my desk, because it is in neither a private area nor a clean area (I am not supposed to eat at my desk either), so I needed another place. With my first, my boss found me empty offices which I kept getting kicked out of for various reasons, and eventually I used the rooms where the on-call docs sleep, which worked out well. With my second, I used the newly created lactation room. (My story about lobbying for the lactation room is here: )

    How long will it take you to pump and how many times a day will you need to?
    I pumped twice per day for about 20 minutes each, and visited my baby over my lunch break to nurse.

    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 able to mostly work around my own schedule as long as I get my work done. So I didn’t require any special accommodations in that regard.

    Where will you store your expressed milk?
    I used the cooler portion of my pump bag to store my milk at work.

  2. Shannon R  

    @Alicia those are great suggestions. I’m glad that you persevered through getting displaced from your pumping room. I’ve on occasion had to find other places to pump as well. It can be very taxing to run to another room, set-up, pump, clean up, run back etc. Pumping is something I felt very strongly about so I had to summon my extra energy to keep up with it. It helped to have someone to talk to about it. Tomorrow will be 15 months of breastfeeding and 8 months of pumping at work!

  3. Abbie  

    Great post Shannon! I pumped at work until my son’s first birthday and was so happy to meet that milestone! I am not a fan of pumping but made it September to March before transitioning my son to cow’s milk. Now my pump is put away (yay!) but we still nurse frequently afternoons, weekends annd throughout the night. I was surprised how my supply adjusted so easily and I’m so happy to have made it all work! I’d tell moms who are just going back to work that it’s hard but you can do it!

  4. Shannon R  

    @Abbie – you are so right! I just started to transition myself to not pump while at work and it is going rather well. I’ve been pumping on the way there and the way home though. But I always felt he was worth any effort I could muster to keep going.

  5. Kimberly

    I am late to this post but have a back-to-work question. I returned to work two days a week three weeks ago. I pump three times while I am at work (9AM, Noon, 2 or 2:30 PM). My supply goes down each day that I work, by my 2PM pump I get about 2 ounces, my baby usually nurses 4 ounces at that time. My daughter has been eating VERY light during the day with her care provider (7 ounces all day). By the time I get home at 5:30 PM she is famished and my milk supply is nearly nil. She then nurses all night to ramp things back up. My fear is I will lose my supply even though I am pumping. I am also taking the herbal supplement “More Milk Plus.” Thoughts? Advice? Help….

    • Shannon R

      Hi Kimberly – you’re never late to the Internet! My first thought is to ask you about your fluid and caloric intake during the day. Have you been able to drink and eat enough during the day since returning to work. I know when I’m home with my boys, I graze constantly. At work though it is easy for me to get distracted and forget to eat or drink my water.
      As far as your daughter’s nursing habits changing, that is normal as well. Nursing provides more then just nutrition and she is probably looking to reconnect with you after being apart for so long. She may also be making up during the nights what she normally would have taken directly from you before returning to work during the day. I’ve experienced this as well. Once I allowed my son to nurse freely at night, it helped me maintain and reestablish my supply. I did my own research and found a comfortable and safe cosleeping arrangement so that I could still get rest at night and my son could nurse and get his nutritional needs met. I’m not sure what your arrangement is currently but you might consider a sidecar arrangement or at least moving her into your room so your ups and downs during the night are shorter. I hope some of these suggestions are helpful to you. Also remember that there isn’t a pump out there that is as efficient as a baby directly suckling and that the more she nurses from you, the more you will make.

      • Kimberly

        Shannon, Thank you so much for the feedback and for the experience-sharing. My daughter does sleep in our room and I am able to side nurse her often during the night. We may transition to co-sleeping, we have a unit we can use to keep her safe. I think the caloric intake is something I need to be more vigilant about. I have decided to look for a supplemental beverage with extra calories and nutrition because I don’t have time to eat more that I’m eating while at work. My daughter is gluten and dairy intolerant so I’ll see what’s out there. Thank you again for the response. I’ve increased my water from 3-4 quarts per 24 hours to 5 and it seems to be helping my supply. Thanks again