What are your rights as a breastfeeding mama work?

Going back to work after a child is born might be difficult, even emotional, for many moms. It may seem that just when you are getting the hang of breastfeeding, you have to go back to work! I want to make this transition as easy as possible for new moms. I want you to go back to work with confidence, knowing what rights protect you as a breastfeeding mother in the workplace.

This article will first highlight the rights you have as a breastfeeding mother, how those apply to the workplace, what protections you have while pumping on the go and some tips for breastfeeding moms in the workplace. Read our tips on your rights as a pregnant mom in the workplace too!

rights in workplace breastfeeding

Your Breastfeeding Rights

Most states already have in place breastfeeding protections for mothers. In most cases, the law says a mother can breastfeed (with or without a cover) anywhere she has the legal right to be. Some states include enforcement provisions, which allow litigation if a mother is discriminated against for breastfeeding in public. Other states also have specific language that prevents discrimination in the workplace. States vary widely on the amount of protection given to breastfeeding mothers. You can search the specific law for your state on breastfeedinglaw.com. If you are interested in helping other mothers in your states receive more protections, you can get involved with your local or state breastfeeding coalition. Many states have improved laws being currently drafted. Knowing your rights can be helpful to remember when baby is hungry and crying in a public place…feed your baby, it’s your right!

Breastfeeding Rights in the Workplace

As a part of the Affordable Care Act, employers must provide breastfeeding mothers with reasonable time and space to express milk. Let’s break down what this law actually gives moms. The law states that mothers must receive break time to pump milk at work for the entire first year of baby’s life. The law does not give a limitation on how many times a day a mom may pump, but your employer is not required to pay you for the time spent pumping.  The law also states that you must have access to a private space to express milk. Thankfully, it specifically states that it cannot be a bathroom and that it must be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.” So in real life, this could be any room with a locking door.

lactating mom at work

There are limitations to this law if your employer has less than 50 employees and accommodating for pumping would “impose an undue hardship” on the business. However, your state might have better protections than given in this law. And if it does, the law states that you are covered by the law with the greatest protections. So if your state requires businesses to give moms a private room with an outlet and sink, you can probably count on a room set aside specifically for lactation purposes. Find out more on your state’s laws at breastfeedinglaw.com.

Some companies go over and beyond in supporting breastfeeding mothers by providing childcare on site so mom can breastfeed anytime during the day. Others have refrigerators and freezers specifically set aside for breastmilk. Many companies help support mothers by providing lactation programs which educate moms on how to breastfeed and pump. Some of these programs also provide access to lactation consultants. Discuss with your company before baby arrives what protections and perks they provide for breastfeeding mothers. You might be surprised!

Work Travel as a Breastfeeding Mother

Spending the workday away from your baby is one thing, but spending a night or more away for a work trip could be intimidating for new moms. Luckily, there are some protections out there for moms who need to express milk on the go! The TSA allows for any amount of breastmilk to be carried in your carry-on bag. Keep in mind that you may be subject to more screening if you are carrying more than 3 ounces. This rule also allows for ice packs and freezer packs in your carry-on to keep the milk cold. Some companies will pay to ship breastmilk back home for moms while they are traveling for work. Check to see if your company offers that particular perk. Many airports also have lactation rooms for pumping and breastfeeding. You can find a complete list of airports that have lactation rooms at Mom Aboard.

Tips for breastfeeding moms in the workplace

pumping mom at work

Make a plan

I recommend making a plan with your employer prior to your maternity leave so this accommodation is taken care of before you return. You could discuss how often you plan to pump (about 4-6 times), where you will pump and where to store your milk each day. Some employers might be hesitant or unsure of how to help. Let your employer know that by continuing to breastfeed, you are lowering the number of sick days you will need to use for your child because breastfed children are sick less often. Request the use of a private room with an outlet and a sink and explain that your pump breaks will be between 15-25 minutes.

Know your pump

Each pump is a little different and you can likely get a breastpump for free through your insurance. Take some time during (or before!) your maternity leave to get to know your pump. Take out the instructions and learn it backwards and forwards. Some moms like keeping extra pump parts, like tubing or cords, at work. Pack your pump bag beforehand with water, snacks and pictures of baby.

Take advantage of hands-on-pumping

When you breastfeed, your baby is using suction and breast compressions to remove milk.  Our current electric pumps only use suction to help a mother express milk. You can increase your milk output by adding in breast compressions with your hands. Lactation Link has a full tutorial and more in our Pumping & Storing class. This is when using a hands-free nursing bra comes in handy! Moving your hands downward in a massaging motion will really help remove more milk. Best to remove milk as efficiently as possible for breast health and for baby. If you’re struggling with low milk supply check out our post on that here

I hope these tips help ease the transition back to work and help create confidence in your ability to bring milk home for your baby each day! Remember that breastfeeding is a new skill for mom and baby and with the right preparation, you can get started breastfeeding with all the tools you need to learn together.

This guest post was written by Lacey Parr. Lacey Parr, CLEC  is a mom of 3, doula and certificated lactation educator counselor with Lactation Link, a private practice offering breastfeeding support through breastfeeding video classes, blog, and online support forum. Lactation Link  also offers in-home (or hospital) lactation support services as well online lactation support services before and after baby is born with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Lactation Link’s goal is to empower women through education to reach their goals, whatever they may be.

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