Goodbye maternity leave. Hello, adult conversations. While there are lots of things to celebrate about going back to work, it’s can also be one of the most stressful parts of new motherhood. You’re no less exhausted, no less emotional, no less overstretched, but you now have to act like a functioning human for 8 hours a day. And maybe even brush your hair.
On top of all that, you also have to consider how you’re going to continue feeding your little one. Due to the frankly abysmal maternity leave policy in the US, you’re probably going back to work while you’re still breastfeeding. So re-entering the workplace might mean you now have to use a breast pump regularly, in fact, 90% of breastfeeding moms who return to work are having to pump.
It’s amazing that so many mamas are persevering with breastfeeding because the benefits of breast milk are well documented, but it certainly ain’t easy.
Know your rights
The Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law states that employers in the US must provide a "reasonable" amount of time and a private space other than a bathroom for mamas to pump. They are required to provide this until the employee's baby turns one year old. This is the case for most hourly wage-earning and some salaried employees.
But trust us when we say, there are a lot of loopholes in this law and some employers will do everything they can to avoid complying. Any company with under 50 employees for example doesn’t have to offer it if they can prove that doing so will cause ‘undue hardship’. Kind of hilarious thinking about a 10-minute break causing undue hardship to an employer when your boobs are about to literally burst.
Employers are also not required under the law to compensate moms for breaks taken for the purpose of pumping. So you might be allowed to pump, but you might not get paid.
So while the topline might be ‘sure, mamas can pump at work, there’s even a law protecting them’, the bottom line is a little bit more complicated. For example, a study from the University of Georgia found that most women – nearly 80% of those surveyed – had a private space at work to express milk, but only around two-thirds of the women reported having break times to breastfeed.
Signs your employer is no ally to breastfeeding moms
You or other mamas are reluctant to come back to work after giving birth.
Pumping feels easier and more comfortable at home.
It’s mainly men on the board and in decision-making power so women are underrepresented and not be looked out for as much.
How we all can do better
Communication is key here, and employers need to communicate the resources available at work because most moms are unaware. They’re back from maternity leave, likely to be feeling vulnerable and emotional at the thought of leaving their little one, and any information that’s given to them to make them feel more comfortable about pumping can be a huge weight off their shoulders. As a new mom, you should also communicate with your employer what you’re hoping to do. If you’re clear with them from the start about how often you’re planning on pumping, there will be no surprises down the line.
If you’re an employer, you should ensure that private spaces are made available. Like we mentioned above, nearly 80% of workplaces offer a private space to pump, but what if you’re part of the other 20%? And no, a toilet doesn’t count as a private space. Some companies put a lot of the functional things in place but then fail to communicate it with the women at work. Appointing a breastfeeding coordinator at the office will mean that any policies you’ve introduced will be clearly communicated to the whole team and mamas won’t feel like they’re left in the dark.
Finally, a key thing we can do to support breastfeeding mamas at work is to talk openly about it. We need to reduce the stigma around pumping and feeding and make sure it’s something everyone feels like they can speak about.
Making pumping easier for you
While you should be provided with a private room for pumping (and you should definitely feel comfortable to demand this, too) using a wearable breast pump like Elvie Pump can make it even easier to pump at work. The electric pump fits discreetly in your bra and means you can attend meetings, join conference calls and even just sit at your desk while you pump.