How to Pump at Work Without Losing Your Job

You've got the fanciest breast pump on the market, a scheduled return to work date -- and a case of the nerves. How will this work?

breast pump and baby bottle

Jen Jamar, a business analyst in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, had planned on breastfeeding long before her son, Levi, was born. But like lots of new mothers, she never actually thought about the logistics."I was nervous to pump at work -- where was I going to do it?" says Jamar. "But on my first day I spoke to Human Resources and they told me to pump in an empty office. Thankfully, HR talked to my boss so she knew my plans and told me to take whatever time I needed," says Jamar.

Still, Jamar tries not to bring up breastfeeding with her colleagues or draw attention to the pumping breaks she takes twice a day. "I don't want to appear less committed to my job than anyone else," says Jamar. "I work through my lunch to make up for the time, so I'm not putting in any fewer hours than anyone else."

Like Jamar, many women want to keep breastfeeding once they return to work. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends women breastfeed exclusively until their baby is six months old, only a small percentage of mothers follow that suggestion, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About three of every four mothers breastfeed their child at birth, but by six months, the number drops to 43 percent, with only 13 percent of mothers breastfeeding exclusively.

"The benefits of breastfeeding -- for both baby and mother -- are countless," says Kinga Szucs, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and an international certified lactation consultant, who points to evidence of immunological, emotional, and even intellectual boosts for breastfed babies. "It's important for women to know that if they want to keep breastfeeding at work, no one can legally prohibit them from doing so."

In fact, a federal law called Break Time for Nursing Mothers requires all companies with at least 50 employees to provide reasonable time and a private space (not a bathroom) for women to pump milk until their baby is a year old," (FYI, your employer isn't required to compensate you for pump breaks unless they offer unpaid breaks for other reasons, such as lunch.) In addition, some states provide greater protection for breastfeeding mothers, such as requiring companies to offer break time beyond one year after the child's birth. (Learn your state breastfeeding laws.)

Want to continue to breastfeed after you head back to the office but aren't sure how to navigate your way? Here are some expert tips to ensure pumping success:

Discuss your plan before you go on maternity leave. Consider sending HR or your boss an email requesting a face-to-face meeting to discuss your pumping plan. (The email will help him prep for this often-awkward conversation). If you need educational references on the benefits breastfeeding provides you and the baby, download them from usbreastfeeding.org and take them along.

Your goal for this meeting: Giving a heads-up that you'll be pumping post-maternity leave and that you will need a designated place and some patience for these "breaks." However, if you have a chair and a light, you can multi-task (yup, pump and work, we moms are super resourceful!).

Think of pumping as a medical issue. "If you had diabetes or another medical condition that required you to take frequent breaks from work, no one would get on your case," says Szucs. Likewise, your colleagues have to get over whatever issues they might have regarding your need to take a break to feed your child. Expect to take 20 to 30 minutes, 3 times a day. And yes, it might mean eating lunch and reading documents with the humming sound of a Medela in the background.

Still, to avoid having to regularly duck out of meetings to pump, get on a schedule. "Ideally, you'll want to pump at the same time every day so you can plan your day around your pumping schedule," says Szucs.

Find a place to pump. Work for a company with less than 50 people? Legally, your employer doesn't have to provide a place for you to pump, but that doesn't mean that you can't do it. "There's no reason to sit in a stall on an open toilet seat to pump," says Judy P. Masucci, owner of breastfeeding shop, A Mother's Boutique, in Wexford, Pennsylvania. If you don't have a private office, she suggests using an empty room, office, or closet as a nursing room. Ideally, you need a chair, some light and access to a sink and refrigerator.

Or turn your car into a nursing sanctuary. "Get yourself a car adapter, recline the back seat and listen to your favorite music as you pump -- or better yet, call and check on your baby," says Masucci. "It may not be fancy, but it is private and peaceful.

Get some good gear. In addition to getting a hospital grade double electric pump (which qualifies as a healthcare expense so you can use pre-tax money from your flexible health spending account to cover it), consider getting a hands-free pumping device, such as a Pump Ease bra which will allow you to type email or do other work while you're pumping (so you don't have to overcompensate and stay late to finish up a project). If your workplace doesn't have a refrigerator -- or you prefer not to store your milk and nursing supplies in a shared space -- buy your own "dorm-style" fridge to keep near your work area.

Masucci suggests buying extra breast pump flanges/tunnels so that you don't have to wash them after each pumping.

Do you have to wear nursing tops to work? No. But you will want to choose tops and dresses with quick access. Basically, you don't want to have to strip down each time you pump.

If you want extra coverage (especially if you're nursing in a spare office or a car), use something like the Bebe au Lait nursing cover to ensure no one walking in on you sees anything.

Find support. Pump-at-work mothers often struggle with feeling torn. "You want to give 100-percent and show that you're a team player at work, but staying a few minutes late to tie up a project is not just staying a few minutes late anymore," says Michelle La Rowe, author of "Working Moms 411." "It means leaky breasts, a baby that's hungry and a caregiver who is almost out of milk. Many work-and-pump moms feel like they're constantly forced to choose between advancing at work and feeding their baby," she says.   

Her advice: Try to find another pump-at-work mom to be your new BF -- that is, breast friend. "Moms who successfully navigate the emotional turns of pumping while working create a good circle of support," says LaRowe. Even joining an online community of bosom buddies can make you feel less isolated. And feeling supported can go a long way to help you extend breastfeeding for as long as you -- and your little one -- want.

> Check out Care.com's Working Moms Forum

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