Going back to work after your maternity leave can already be a stressful time as is. Worrying about the ins and outs of breastfeeding in public and pumping in the workplace if you’re a mom who breastfeeds shouldn’t add to your stress.
However, there can be certain concerns and stigmas new moms face, like needing privacy or asking for more time to express your milk. “Mothers don’t want to feel like an inconvenience or ask their employers for special treatment in their workplace. The truth is, you are legally within your rights to ask for this additional support at work,” says Josée Pound, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant based in Los Angeles.
We spoke to breastfeeding experts and working moms to get a better idea of what you can expect, how to cope with this new experience, as well as understanding all your rights.
Moms Who Breastfeed: Getting Ready to Go Back to Work
“Every mother’s situation will be slightly different when they return to work,” says Pound. “A great way to prepare is by starting to express milk 2-4 weeks before returning to work. This will help by creating a stash of stored milk in your freezer in case you run into any difficulties or challenges your first few weeks into the new routine.”
“Expressing milk a few weeks prior to returning to work also gives you an opportunity to start using your pump and experimenting with different settings and flange sizes to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible before returning to work,” she adds.
Pound says the best way to go about starting this new pre-work routine is to pump a couple of times a day after your baby would normally nurse and freeze whatever additional milk you’re able to remove. “It’s normal that this amount won’t be very much at first because it’s the ‘bonus’ milk that your baby wouldn’t normally be removing at those feeds,” she assures.
Pumping in the Workplace
Like pregnancies and births, the experience of breastfeeding and pumping will vary from mom-to-mom. This rings true for those who have planned to pump at work.
“Moms who have a very good milk supply can sometimes get away with pumping twice while at work, but it’s more common to recommend pumping three times at work,” says Oakland-based consultant Sarah Tyack, RN, BSW, IBCLC.
Tyack suggests that moms double pump for 12-15 minutes with a good electric pump and when you’re done pumping to put all the pump parts in a ziplock bag and store them in the provided refrigerator. To save time, Tyack says you can also bag them with some freezer packs and wash the pump parts when you go home.
Tips for Pumping at Work
In order to feel more comfortable and relaxed while pumping at work, Philadelphia-based career coach and mother of two boys, Wendy Toth says she would use a white noise app on her phone, videos of her baby, or even some of her favorite TV shows. “I’d watch 10 or 15-minute sections while I pumped and that really helped me get in the zone,” she says.
Ideally, Pound says your work day should look like this: “Nurse first thing in the morning when your baby wakes up, offer another short feed or ‘top off’ right before you leave the house or drop them off at childcare.” She continues, “The best opportunities to express milk will likely be your mid-morning break, lunch and/or afternoon break.”
If you pump twice at work, Pound suggests asking your childcare to help with this plan by not offering your baby a bottle within an hour or so of you picking them up or returning home from work.
Pound says when you do return home from work, “You can continue to nurse your baby at the breast, as usual, following their cues throughout the evening and overnight.”
Understanding Your Rights as a New Mom in the Workplace
For new moms who breastfeed, there are standards put in place by the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure you have everything you need. In fact, section 7 of the FLSA requires that employers provide basic accommodations, such as time and space, for breastfeeding mothers at work.
But, unfortunately, these rules don’t apply to all moms. While federal law mandates that a company with 50 or more employees provide a place that’s not a bathroom and gives adequate pumping time, as Tyack points out, “Many companies have fewer employees so the employer isn’t required by law to provide this, leaving millions of moms in the U.S. without any kind of protection.”
If you work for a company like this, Tyack suggests talking to other moms within your workplace to get a better idea of how they pumped and what their own experiences were like. For Toth, she had different experiences after both of her babies were born.
After the birth of her first son, Toth worked in an office that had a dedicated, private pumping room with easy access to the kitchen. “The door locked and there was a mini fridge in there for milk storage plus a comfortable chair and blanket,” she recalls, adding, “The only thing missing was a dedicated sink. Washing pump parts in a community sink is incredibly awkward, especially because it takes time to do right.”
Toth was in a new workplace after her second son was born and didn’t have as positive an experience. The office, Toth explains, “was under construction and was in the process of adding a pumping room while I was pumping—which meant my best option was locking the door to the office supply room.”
Though Toth was provided with a chain lock and an occupied sign outside, she had to ask HR to send reminders to coworkers who accidentally tried to open the door.
While no mom should have to go through this, it can be all too common. The same goes for feeling guilt or shame when it comes to taking the time that’s reserved for pumping. Toth can attest to this: “I wish I had been less fearful of what people would think of me for not being at my desk so much. I built it up in my head that my boss and co-workers would care and I only pumped twice per day when three times would have been better for my supply.”
If your co-workers and/or boss aren’t giving the time and space required by law while you pump, Tyack says you should go to your human resources department to ensure your concerns are heard and your needs are met.