The thought of pumping at work can be slightly daunting for new moms. Beyond just the logistics of assembling all of those pump parts and finding time in between conference calls and meetings to pump, there's the stress of simply doing it. Where will I pump? Will my boss give me a hard time? Will my co-workers cause a scene? Before you get too stressed, it's important to know your pumping rights at work. Being armed with a little legal knowledge and feeling confident will really help you be successful at pumping at work.
Before delving into the rights, the benefits of breastfeeding cannot (and should not) be ignored. No one is saying breast milk is the only way to feed a baby, as there are plenty of valid reasons why someone would choose a different mode of nourishment. But breastmilk remains the gold standard if physically and emotionally available to the mother. According to Web MD, breast milk is the perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat made into an easily digestible form for your baby. Babies who breastfeed are reportedly less prone to asthma, allergies, ear infections, and diarrhea. And the big bonus: breast milk is free. Considering the huge benefits of breast milk and the fact that more than half of the workforce is now women, according to the Department of Labor, it's no wonder lawmakers secured some rights for working mothers.
Admittedly, the guidelines aren't perfect, but they're a good start. As part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enacted by President Obama, many breastfeeding employees are provided rights and protected by law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). In a nutshell, the law was created so that breastfeeding women would be supported in the workplace. In a perfect world employers would follow the law and be accommodating, but sometimes they aren't. Here are five pumping rights all breastfeeding moms who work outside of the home should know about.
1. You Get Break Time To Pump
"The Affordable Care Act does require that employers provide their employees who are nursing parents with 'reasonable' break time for expressing milk (pumping or manual expression)," Ruth Castillo, a doula at Salty Mama Doula & Family Services, tells Romper. The word "reasonable" is up for interpretation and differs for every mother because every baby and every mother have different needs. Furthermore, this break time can be used to find a suitable pumping space, gather your supplies, clean them, and return to your workspace, according to Kelly Mom.
To be clear, the law requires you get break time, but it doesn't require you to get paid during this time. You will be paid in your usual way.
2. You Get A Private Space
You do not have to pump in the bathroom, unless you prefer to. Under ACA, employers are required to provide a place that's private and that no one (including fellow employees) can see inside, as explained by the aforementioned Kelly Mom post. Employers don't have to make a designated place or room for breastfeeding or lactating moms, but they are required to have a space available to you each time you need it. As long as they do that, they're meeting the requirements.
As an added personal note, I'd request that the space provided for you be safe and clean as well (not a packed, dirty supply closet or something).
3. You Can Store Your Pumped Milk At Your Office
This isn't part of the ACA law language, but many states have individual laws and ordinances to support breastfeeding mothers which include language about milk storage, as explained on the NCSL website. If you need to store your breast milk during the work day, it's generally believed that you're within your right and totally allowed to put it in a personal cooler or an office refrigerator.
You do whatever is more comfortable for you and no one (including co-workers) should be stopping you. If you want to know the specific rights for your state or city in regards to storage, you can contact your local maternity care coalition or equivalent organization.
4. You Can File A Complaint
"Parents have to remember to speak up for their right as expressing breast milk isn't just about feeding their infants," Castillo says, "not expressing or breastfeeding regularly can cause complications such as low supply, clogged ducts and mastitis, a serious infection of the breast tissue."
She added that parents who are fired or discriminated against because of taking break time for expressing milk, can file a complaint with the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.
5. You Don't Have To Quit Your Job
If you feel like you're being discriminated against or forced out of your job because of pumping, you don't have to quit. Regardless of what your employer says. Even if your employers are making it hard on you and giving you ultimatums, you're allowed to stand your ground. Hopefully, a reasonable compromise can be met through working with your human resources department.
If your HR can't or won't help, litigation might be a necessary course of action, but again you don't have to quit during this time. In fact, according to a HuffPost article, it's better to be fired in these situations than quit on your own accord. Parents are encouraged to stay in their jobs if possible, especially if they are seeking legal recourse.
Although the ACA policies have been criticized for leaving many breastfeeding mothers out (companies with under 50 employees don't have to comply), they're getting employers headed in an encouraging direction. Supporting mothers and breastfeeding mothers in the workplace is important for our country and our world. It will be crucial for parents to stay abreast (pun intended) of these rights, in case they ever need to use them to stand their ground when it comes to pumping in the workplace.