Breastfeeding at Work

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More mothers are choosing to work outside of the home, making mothers the quickest growing sector in the United States labor-force, according to the CDC’s study on breastfeeding and the workplace. However, mothers may face extra challenges if they work outside of the home and still wish to breast feed their babies.

To maintain their milk supplies while working, breastfeeding mothers need time and space to express milk for their babies, and unfortunately, in a number of workplaces, these are not always easily accessible. New laws are now catching up to this need and more accommodations for nursing mothers are now being made.

Federal law protects breastfeeding mothers in the workplace by requiring employers to supply a break time as well as a private place (other than a bathroom, GROSS!) for expressing milk during working hours. Employers are required to do this until the mother’s baby turns one year old.(1)

Several mothers were interviewed about their experiences as breastfeeding mothers in the workforce and while some mothers had good experiences, others found the combination of nursing and being at the workplace difficult to juggle.

Kelsey*, who works in the human resources department of a non-profit organization, said that she felt guilty for being a breastfeeding mother. She was assigned to a “dirty, crowded closet” to pump. “I had nowhere to plug in my pump. I cried and left early because I felt so overwhelmed that first day. Work has ruined breastfeeding and pumping for me.”

Bridgette*, a teacher, said that she felt that she was inconveniencing her co-workers when she had to leave her class to pump.

Sadly, cases like Kelsey’s and Bridgette’s aren’t uncommon. Some women find nursing and working to be so difficult that they must choose between the two. According to the CDC report,

“Working outside the home is related to a shorter duration of breastfeeding, and intentions to work full time are significantly associated with lower rates of breastfeeding initiation and shorter duration.”

Some women, however, feel more empowered than discouraged as nursing mothers in the workforce.

Shoshanah, a labor and delivery nurse, was assigned a lactation room in the hospital where she worked. Although Shoshanah, had difficulty finding the time to stop what she was doing while at work to pump, she was able to nurse her son, Nathaniel, for over a year. Some challenges Shoshanah experienced were becoming engorged because she was in the middle of working and unable to stop to pump; feeling resented by some coworkers for receiving what they perceived as “extra breaks” to pump; and multi-tasking by pumping and doing her nursing charts. About her busy schedule, Shoshana said, “Luckily, I had supportive coworkers who would cover for me.”

Tabitha, a dental hygienist, also had a support system at her job. She said, “I had an amazing boss that was very supportive. If we had any type of meeting or luncheon, he would have the assistants take over and finish [tending to] my patients so I could have time before lunch to pump. He was also willing to let me work my schedule however I needed to accommodate. He asked me, prior to maternity leave, about what I needed when I came back.”

Tabitha’s good experience in the workplace helped her successfully reach her breastfeeding goals. She breastfed her daughter, Savannah, until she was seventeen months old.

Michele* works as a Project Manager at a non-profit that assists families with childcare assistance during the child’s formative years. Michele found out that she was pregnant only 3 months after beginning her job at the non-profit. Her manager and director (both women; one with children) were extremely understanding and accommodating during her pregnancy and even after she returned from maternity leave.

While she states that the room that was designated particularly for nursing mothers wasn’t the most comfortable, it still allowed her to express her milk in a quiet and private room. Michele attributes her ability to breast feed her baby for sixteen months to the fact that her employer encouraged and supported her need to pump while at work. She is grateful that her employer was so understanding of her needs because she knows that this isn’t usually the norm.

Everyone’s situation is unique when deciding on the best method to continue breastfeeding while working. A mother may find that talking to her boss before she goes on maternity leave to be helpful as she sets her own breastfeeding goals. This way, when she returns to work, her boss and coworkers are aware of her desires to continue nursing her child. Hopefully, accommodations will be made ahead of time so that she can express milk in a safe, comfortable place for a reasonable amount of time.

If a mother is not allotted the time and space she is allowed, laws are in place to protect her rights so that she can be able to continue to breastfeed. Because mothers will need to take extra time to express breastmilk, a strong support system is essential in the workplace environment. Being surrounded by coworkers who understand and respect a mother’s desire to give her baby breastmilk can help her reach and maintain her breastfeeding goals.

Though working outside of the home may present challenges for breastfeeding mothers, it is still possible for mothers to provide breastmilk for their children. It may require additional effort and many discussions with employers but it is truly worth the effort!
1) “Workplace Support in Federal Law” United States Breastfeeding Committee United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. 2015 Sep 7

“Support for Breastfeeding in the Workplace” 2015 Sep 7

*names have been changed, per request

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