How To Support A Breastfeeding Mom's Return To Work
Many women feel torn about returning to work after having a baby, especially if they’re breastfeeding. 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:
- Women 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 don’t 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. Since 2010, Federal legislation has required companies to give breastfeeding employees a place to pump, plus time for pumping breaks, throughout the first year of a baby’s life. Only companies with fewer than 50 employees (which can prove that making accommodations would be too difficult or expensive for the business) are exempt from the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law.
Why pumping at work is essential
It’s crucial for working women who are breastfeeding to be able to pump milk throughout the day. A woman’s body makes breast milk on a supply-and-demand basis: She only makes more milk when her baby, or a breast pump, removes the existing milk. If this doesn’t happen, a woman’s milk supply dwindles. Babies breastfeed every 2 to 3 hours, so women need to pump their milk every 2 to 3 hours for about 15 minutes per session. During a typical workday, these breaks should total less than one hour. Work with your employee to create a schedule that accommodates her needs.
Pumping 101: What women 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 on which the woman can place her 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:
- an unused storage closet
- a dressing room
- a manager’s office
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
Women need to refrigerate pumped breast milk until they go home. Many women bring their own mini-coolers. Some place milk in a communal company fridge, but not everyone feels comfortable doing this, and sometimes, other employees feel awkward seeing breast milk on the shelf. For this reason, some employers place a mini-fridge in the pumping area.
Educating all workers
Letting everyone within your company know that you support breastfeeding may have far-reaching benefits. Female workers may feel more confident. All employees 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 be glad to learn that pumping breaks won’t prevent a woman from doing her 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.