HR Management & Compliance

Returning Moms Fear Breastfeeding Could Impact Career Growth

Women who reenter the workforce after giving birth have a lot on their minds: catching up from maternity leave, making sure they situate their babies in daycare or with a childcare provider, and much more. For some working moms, the last thing on their minds is career growth, yet despite this, almost one-third of new survey respondents say they are concerned that breast-pumping at work could hurt their chances for career growth.


Source: AMitchell / Shutterstock

According to Acelleron’s latest Human Resources Report, 43% of breastfeeding moms surveyed feel they are less able to complete their work tasks due to their at-work pumping conditions, and 29% are concerned that pumping at work can impact their career growth.

Breastfeeding is one of the biggest challenges when returning to work from parental leave, and despite this, 90% of breastfeeding moms are pumping at work, or planning to pump at work when they return.

Breastfeeding has tremendous health benefits for both mom and baby and is strongly encouraged by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics. For employers, this is great news as breastfeeding in the workplace results in significant healthcare savings and higher retention rates.

“With the increasing trend of moms wanting to feed their babies human milk, companies need to better support breastfeeding employees returning to work,” says Jason Canzano, Managing Director of Acelleron. “When looking at some of the key statistics in our report, only 49 percent of our moms’ employers have a lactation/mother’s room to pump in and 78 percent of these moms stated their employer has greater than 50 employees, meaning these companies are not meeting the federal requirements for protecting breastfeeding women in the workplace.”

With at-work pumping conditions being sub-par, 24% of the moms surveyed have considered a job/career change due to their need to pump at work. Despite the improving nursing laws and employer benefits, much more can be done to support breastfeeding mothers returning to work. Here are just a few ways you can accommodate these workers:

Allow Women to Take Breaks to Breast Pump

At a minimum—under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)—you must provide “a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” The frequency and duration of the pumping breaks vary among women, so flexibility is important.

Most women will need two or three breaks during a standard 8-hour shift. In addition to the time spent expressing the milk (typically 15 to 20 minutes per session), they may need time for setting up, cleaning up, and storing the milk.

Women may choose to use their standard breaks and meal periods to pump breast milk, but they aren’t required to do so. You aren’t required to pay employees during pumping breaks. If an employee is using break time that is already paid time, however, you must compensate her in the same way as you pay other employees for the time.

If she needs extra break time to express milk, it can be unpaid. In addition, she must be completely relieved from duty during the break, or else the time must be compensated as work time.

Create a Designated ‘Lactation’ Room or Space

To accommodate employees who need to express breast milk, the FLSA requires employers to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that’s shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers and the public. That often means putting a lock on the door or setting up a screen or curtain and adding appropriate signage to dissuade others from entering. For outdoor workplaces, a pop-up tent or portable shell may be necessary.

Bathrooms are not acceptable spaces to accommodate pumping employees under the law. Bathrooms are places to eliminate waste and wash your hands afterward to prevent the spread of germs and disease. Breast milk is food and should be handled in the same sanitary manner as other food. No one would consider preparing food in a bathroom.

The space offered to employees doesn’t have to be a permanent, dedicated lactation room. Flexible and temporary options, such as borrowing a coworker’s office, are sufficient. The space only needs to be a private, designated area when the employee needs it to express breast milk. The space can be converted to other purposes when she isn’t using it. If your business has limited space or options, you may want to consider partnering with a neighboring business to share lactation space.

A designated, private, and comfortable lactation space is necessary because mothers should be seated and not stressed to promote the best milk flow. Although a baby can be nursed relatively discreetly using a cover garment and requiring minimal cleanup, using a breast pump to express milk is a much different experience with more steps involved.

To use the pump, a woman must remove part of her clothing and cannot easily conceal herself. Most pumps plug into the wall and make a distinctive, very audible pumping sound. The equipment needs to be cleaned afterward, and the breast milk must be stored properly and refrigerated.

Although not required by law, offering a space with any of the following items will greatly improve your employee’s experience and make it easier for her to pump and return to work more efficiently:

  • Chair;
  • Adjacent table for the breast pump to rest on;
  • Electrical outlet;
  • Paper towels or other wipes to clean up;
  • Mirror for the employee to use when getting dressed;
  • Locker or other storage for the pump and supplies;
  • Radio or white-noise machine to block the pump’s distracting noise for coworkers;
  • Sink with running water; and
  • Refrigerator for storing milk, if possible.

Create a Lactation Policy

Creating a company policy helps ensure you’re complying with the laws. It offers clarity to your supervisors about what the company must do to accommodate nursing mothers. A policy clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of employees, coworkers, and supervisors, which may help avoid embarrassing or uncomfortable discussions and encounters. Here are some other benefits:

  • A policy signals your company supports breastfeeding, which may help reassure a new mother in deciding whether to return to work after maternity leave and ease her transition.
  • It tells coworkers what they may need to do to accommodate the break time and the private space requirements under the law.
  • It warns coworkers that the company won’t tolerate joking or harassing behavior toward nursing mothers, which could create a hostile work environment.

A thoughtful lactation policy and comfortable private space enable employees to express milk more efficiently and successfully, reduce break time, and feel a greater sense of job and personal satisfaction, thereby reducing employee turnover.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *