Monday, January 13, 2014

Know Your Rights: Pumping in the Workplace

If you're anything like me, as soon as you thought you had this breastfeeding thing in the bag, it was time to go back to work and a whole new set of challenges presented themselves. You've made the obligatory call to the boss to let them know you're returning as planned and reminded them that you are going to pump for your baby to provide the best nutrition you can for as long as you can but at least the six months recommended by the AAP and hopefully until your little's first birthday. "Absolutely. No problem!" she says then hangs up the phone. Relief.

The boss isn't the only one on your side. So is the law. 

The Department of Labor, in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that for any company with 50 plus employees: 

Employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”

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, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

What does this mean for you? You are protected.

Even if you don't feel like it sometimes, there is a federal law backing up your requests to go pump when you feel that you need to, when your little one usually eats, when you feel full.

The law also outlines where you should be pumping at work. Private space. Not a bathroom. Ideally a locked door but somewhere that a person can't just barge in on you.

In addition to the federal protection, twenty four states have laws protecting pumping mothers as well. All of the information on state laws regarding pumping and breastfeeding in public can be found here

I get that the law is on my side but what else do I have to back me up?

You can be like yours truly and walk around work saying things like, "This is a violation of pumping laws and the mother friendly worksite!" or you can have a smidge more tact. I suggest a combination of both, personally. There are actually benefits of breastfeeding to your employer. That's right. Make it about their productivity and the big-wigs may be more inclined to give you the breaks you are entitled to.

Mastitis, or as I like to call it, boob flu, can knock you out of working order for a week. Mastitis can be caused by plugged ducts which can be caused by -wait for it- not emptying the breasts frequently. It would be super unfortunate for you to miss work to nurse a bad case of mastitis that could have been avoided had your coworker just covered for you for 20 minutes so you could pump instead of complaining for 10....I digress...The bottom line is that it is a health issue for you to have regular access to a place and time to express milk.

Breastfed babies tend to get sick less so by giving a breastfeeding mother pumping breaks, an employer is essentially cutting back on sick days mom would have to take to get a sick little to the pediatrician for an ear infection, respiratory infection or other illness. Breast milk, unlike formula, is packed full of antibodies so as mom is getting over that nasty seasonal gunk going around, baby is gobbling up all sorts of defenses against it through mama's milk. Less sick days for baby = less sick days for mama = a happier and more productive employer.

I'm afraid to speak up because I'm afraid they'll treat me differently or retaliate in some way.

Guess what? The law protects against that, too! It is a violation of the FLSA for anyone to retaliate in any way against a mother who has lodged a complaint regarding violation of federal pumping laws.

Here's some great resources for the federal and state pumping and breastfeeding laws:

Don't be afraid to step up, mamas. Know your rights. Keep calm and nurse on. Til next time...


  1. Thanks for posting this and for linking to it on the BF forum! I'm very nervous about the "retaliation" or the passive-aggressive nature of *ahem* certain coworkers ("must be NICE to take so many breaks" "yes, I'll watch your patients... AGAIN"). We are not baby or mama-friendly and I know several people that had to stop BF because they just didn't have the time (and weren't given the time) during their shift. I'm not an assertive person, but I'm determined to feed my baby! This Mama's got to get tougher!

  2. Yes, Jessica, thanks for sharing this. I would agree to go the productivity and health issue route rather than legal since this law is just now being tested. In addition to mastitis and plugged ducts, if a mom stays engorged too long (about 6 hours) her breasts might start the involution process and shut down. This would be devastating and probably irreversible. Remember you are not pumping for your own comfort, you are pumping to preserve your milk supply for your baby. No one has the right to take that away from you. Amanda, when you get the snide comments come back with "I'll be back in 15 minutes and then can cover for you" or "My baby thanks you" letting them know this is not for you but for your baby. Linda D.

  3. I knew these laws when I went back to work by managers (both male) didn't give a crap at all! It was so frustrating and I think at least when I went to work there was some stipulation like "as long as it doesn't interfere with your job" and unfortunately as a waitress it did interfere at time. I was on top of it though and pumped a lot at home and whenever I could get a chance at work (which wasn't often.). I hope the laws continue to improve! Thanks for sharing!