Returning to work after having a child can come with a host of mixed emotions. For moms who plan to pump, there can be an additional layer of challenges to sort through as they get up to speed on their workload and balance the emotional toll of being away from their baby. New moms need to pump breast milk every few hours throughout the day, and they may worry that it won’t be possible to do that at work without causing a stir. If you make your workplace welcoming to breastfeeding moms, you can make the transition back to work easier for them, which, in turn, can benefit your business financially.
Supporting your employee is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business:
- Parents who pump at work take fewer sick days, because breastfed babies are healthier
- Healthy breastfed babies have fewer medical costs, resulting in fewer insurance claims
- Employees who feel supported are less likely to quit, so you won’t need to hire and train new workers
- Workers who feel supported by their companies tend to be more productive
If you’ve never had an employee who’s breastfed, you may not realize that you’re legally obligated to allow employees the time and space to pump breast milk. Most U.S. employees have the right to pump breastmilk at work, thanks to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the more recent Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act) passed in December 2022. There may be exceptions for companies with fewer than 50 employees who can prove that making accommodations would cause undue hardship, but these cases are rare.
Why pumping at work is essential
It’s crucial for working parents who are breastfeeding to be able to pump milk throughout the day. Breastfeeding works on a supply-and-demand basis: mom only makes more milk when her baby, or a breast pump, removes the existing milk. If this doesn’t happen, a mom’s milk supply dwindles. Since babies breastfeed every 2 to 3 hours, so moms need to pump their milk every 2 to 3 hours for about 15-20 minutes per session. Keep the lines of communication open and work with your employee to create a schedule that accommodates their needs.
Pumping 101: What pumping parents need
Employees who breastfeed don’t require much: They’ll bring their own breast pumps to work with them. They simply need a private area in which to pump breast milk, plus time to pump as needed throughout the day. Here’s how to accommodate breastfeeding employees:
The area that you set aside for pumping should have:
- privacy with a door that locks from the inside and window coverings
- a comfortable chair
- an electrical outlet
- a table or surface to place the pump
Spaces that are as small as 4 feet by 5 feet can work well. Thinking creatively may help you figure out how to adapt spaces like:
- a clean, unused closet
- a dressing room
- a manager’s office or unused conference room
A bathroom isn’t acceptable as a pumping space, because:
- bathrooms are unsanitary, and breast milk is food
- bathroom stalls don’t have electrical outlets
- there’s nowhere to place a breast pump within a stall
- there isn’t adequate privacy
Parents need to refrigerate pumped breast milk until they go home. Many moms bring their own mini-coolers. Some place milk in a communal company fridge, but not everyone feels comfortable doing this, and sometimes, other employees react when they see breast milk on the shelf. For this reason, some employers find it helpful to place a mini-fridge in the pumping area.
Educating all workers
Taking the steps to support your breastfeeding employees may have far-reaching benefits. It’s also a great opportunity to educate employees, who may find out useful information and feel the company supports its staff. Supervisors and coworkers who fear that they’ll be picking up the slack will learn that pumping breaks won’t prevent a colleague from doing their job – and that being supported in such an important way may help someone be more productive and miss less work.
A short-term commitment with long-term payoff
Employees only breastfeed for a relatively short time. Giving your employees the ability to nourish their babies while they’re at work can inspire loyalty and productivity that benefits you for years to come.
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