Breast pumping in the workplace: know your rights

Okay, we all know the U.S. leaves much to be desired in terms of women’s rights, but if you’re a breastfeeding mama headed back to work, there is one law that you should know about: the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law

The law states that employers are required to provide breastfeeding mothers with reasonable break time and spaces to privately express milk. 

What do reasonable break times and spaces *actually* look like?

Let’s start with the space itself…

According to the law, the space provided cannot be a bathroom and must offer at least some privacy. It must be ‘shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers or the public.’ It does not, however, have to be a permanent, dedicated space.

Now, onto ‘reasonable’ breaks…

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) reports that reasonable break time is defined as ‘each time such employee has need to express the milk.’ 

If your manager, boss, or employer refuses to accommodate you when you return to work, you’ll need to advocate for yourself. The WHD is responsible for enforcing the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, so call the toll-free WHD number 1-800-487-9243. You will then be directed to your nearest WHD office for assistance.

Dear lawmakers, uh, we can do better

Well, that’s a start, right? But we could + should *seriously* do better. Here are our suggestions, if you’re interested, good sirs:

#1 Require that employers create a permanent lactation space. 

When mothers aren’t provided with a permanent space, they’re often forced to pump in makeshift spaces that are awkward and uncomfortable. And news flash: hearing your coworkers in the next room while you’re topless and expressing milk from your tatas isn’t exactly relaxing. 

Plus, when you feel like you’re inconveniencing coworkers because you’re using a space that would otherwise be freed up for them, that also adds unnecessary stress and feelings of guilt – two things moms don’t exactly need more of.  

#2 Require that employers provide a space + reasonable breaks beyond the first year of baby’s life. 

Sooo, the law only protects breastfeeding moms for one year after the child’s birth. That means if you choose to continue breastfeeding your child after the one-year mark (as many moms do), your employer is no longer obligated to provide you with break times or a private space to express milk. 

Baby’s don’t just stop breastfeeding on their first birthdays. A lot of moms continue breastfeeding beyond that milestone, and if a mom chooses to do that, she should be accommodated. She shouldn’t be forced to choose between feeding her baby the way she wants and keeping her job. 

#3 Require employers to provide hourly employees with paid breaks for pumping. 

Under the current law, employers are not required to pay hourly employees for breaks taken to pump. Sure, you can use any available break time you have (a whopping 15 minutes, twice a shift for most people), but outside of that, you may be off the clock to pump. 

Pumping isn’t like ‘slack off time’ for moms who just don’t want to do their jobs. It’s work to feed a baby. So, let’s not punish moms who get paid hourly, huh? 

Just a couple of suggestions. We’re happy to provide more ideas on how you can support working moms if you’re interested, lawmakers. You know where to find us. 

P.S. To the moms who are pumping at work…If you feel a little weird about pumping at work and knowing your coworkers are near, try putting on some music. It’s not easy being a mom, but you’re doing such a great job of providing for your baby and keeping your milk supply up. So, try not to worry about what anyone else may or may not be thinking. Do y’a thing. Pro tip: Use our Top 5 Breast Pumping Hacks to make pumping a breeze, no matter where you are!