Advocating for moms who want to breastfeed is important work, especially if you're fighting for their (or your) right to breastfeed in public. But finding ways to advocate for breastfeeding moms in the workplace is just as important, if not more so.
Amy O'Malley, director of education and clinical services at Medela, tells me during a phone interview that going back to work is often a huge reason why moms don't continue breastfeeding past six months. Reports from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention confirmed this as well with statistics showing that breastfeeding infants drop from 51.8 percent at 6 months old to 30.7 percent at 12 months old. Additionally, the CDC noted that the decrease in moms breastfeeding their babies between 6 and 12 months is often due to a lack of support from family, healthcare providers, and their employers.
Pumping is already a lot of work, but when you're trying to juggle a busy work day, meeting deadlines, and having conferences, it's even more difficult to find that time to pump and maintain your milk supply. Not to mention, now you have to carry an extra bag with your pumping gear, clean it, find a place in the office to store your milk, and take it all home with you again at the end of the day. It can be exhausting.
But what's even more exhausting is when your workplace isn't on board with your breastfeeding goals. It doesn't matter if you breastfeed in the workplace or have a co-worker who does — every breastfeeding mom deserves to be advocated for at work. Education can go a long way, but you can also try these 11 ways to advocate for yourself and your fellow breastfeeding moms. Excelling in your career shouldn't signal the end of your breastfeeding journey — you can do both with the right support.
1. Use The Medela At Work Resources
If you're not sure where to start, take a look at Medela at Work, a great resource for employees and employers alike. "There are different tips and tools in Medela at Work," O'Malley says. "We have pieces for employers about setting up a pumping room in the workplace as well as items like door hangers for employees to use so other co-workers know they are pumping." This is a great resource to show your employer and sit down to chat with them about your rights as a breastfeeding mom.
2. Talk To Your Manager About Your Breastfeeding Plans Before Your Maternity Leave
It's not enough to show up to work after your maternity leave and expect a pumping room, mini fridge, and understanding from the entire workplace. "It's really important to speak to your employer ahead of time," O'Malley says. "It can create a lot of anxiety if you don’t know what’s going to happen with going back to work and planning to pump. Talk to your employer about your plans, ask them where they think you should pump, and come up with a plan together."
3. Speak To Your Workplace About The Benefits Of Breastfeeding
"It's beneficial for employees to be providing breast milk to their babies," O'Malley says and it's something you definitely should talk to your employer about. Share the benefits of breastfeeding with them so they understand why it's so important for you and the workplace. "Breastfed babies are generally healthier babies which means less sick time and time spent away from work." By outlining the benefits of breastfeeding and what it means for your family, you can share with your employer how it can improve your work balance, too.
4. Talk With Your Manager To Find A Plan That Works For Everybody
There are different laws per state, so O'Malley recommends speaking with your employer to find a plan that works for the entire workplace. "It's your right to pump, but you may need to find a conference room to turn into a pumping session or work out a schedule with your manager so you know when to pump and when to be back at your desk," she says. "Ask your employer where you should pump, how will your pumping sessions work in relation to your break, and what resources does your workplace already have available."
5. Create A Pumping Routine
This is huge for both you and your employer. A pumping routine keeps everything running smoothly and makes the entire process easier on everyone. "Making a pumping routine will keep you on track," O'Malley says. "Know what parts you need, when to clean them, the process of pumping, and what supplies you need. You won't forget anything when you have a routine and it will save everyone time."
6. Know Your Rights
Even if your employer is supportive of pumping, it's still important to know your rights so you can make educated decisions about your pumping at work. "The laws vary by state, but there are a few important things to know — your employer can't tell you how many pumping sessions you're allowed and you should never have to pump in a bathroom," O'Malley says. "It is your right to pump and you are allowed pumping breaks during the work day."
7. Create A Pumping Schedule So Co-Workers Know You're Pumping
At the Medela offices, employees implemented a great system for breastfeeding moms. "Medela has the ability to block a room, like a conference room, so that moms can pump. They just block it off on their schedule, but everyone can see where that employee is and what they are doing," O'Malley says. This way, everyone knows that room is unavailable, and nobody has to go looking for your if they need you. They can schedule meetings around your pumping time and wait for you to finish before reaching out to you. "If you're in a traditional 9 to 5 work environment, consider setting aside time each day to pump and stick to your schedule," she adds. "This is efficient and helpful for the other employees."
8. Work With What You Have In Terms Of Resources
If your office has never had a pumping mom before, there may not be resources available specifically for you. But O'Malley suggests always talking to your employer about what you need. Can they get you a fridge for your breast milk? Will the other employees mind putting your milk in the community fridge? Can they have a space for you to pump or do they mind if you pump at your desk with the door closed? Communication is key to advocating as well as an open mind. There may not be cushy recliners with your own personal mini fridge, but as long as they are willing to work with you, you can make it happen.
9. Consider A Workplace Pump
Talk to your employers about having a workplace pump for breastfeeding moms to use. "You don't want to skimp on a pump," O'Malley says. "A double electric pump can get you 18 percent more milk and it's also hands-free so you can continue to work while you're pumping." Some companies have started purchasing a hospital grade pump for their employees so they don't have to worry about an employee forgetting to bring their pump, their pump dying, or having to shuffle the parts back and forth between house and home.
10. Keep Yourself Organized With A Checklist
What will you need to make your pumping session as efficient as possible? A picture of your baby? A piece of your baby's clothing? O'Malley says things like that can help your milk supply and can make you get the most out of your pumping session. Know where you're going to store your milk, keep bags and bottles at your desk if necessary, and get as organized as possible so not a minute is wasted.
11. Don't Surprise Your Workplace With Your Plans
It's just bad form. "Talk to your employer about your breastfeeding plans, like if you're planning on pumping for an entire 12 months or if you want to exclusively breastfeed the first six months," O'Malley says. Ask about someone bringing you your baby so you can breastfeed, and be sure to let your employer what you need so they can help you figure out the best course of action. You guys are a team, so definitely make your needs and desires known.