Pumping At Work: Know Your Rights!

back to work

When your children are born you have to make a number of decisions. One of the biggest ones is how to feed them. You can nurse exclusively (if you are able to stay home with them), you can give formula, you can pump and bottle feed, or some combination of these. If you are going back to work your choices are pretty much limited to formula or pumping at work and bottle feeding. But basically if you are a working mom and you don’t want to go the formula route, you will have to tackle the “how to pump at work” dilemma. Which challenges you will face in this truly depends on the type of job you have, and how accommodating your boss and schedule can be.

Know your rights as a nursing mother.

Your legal rights change depending on what kind of work you do, what kind of company you work for, and where you live. There are some federal laws protecting some pumping mothers, but individual states also have their own laws. Being informed on what you can expect is huge.

As of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, federal law requires break time and a location for most employees to pump. According to the United States Department of Labor website some employees are entitled to a “reasonable break time and a space for expressing breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk” based on The Patient Protections and Affordable Care Act (amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act). Employees covered by this act are also entitled to “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusions from coworkers and the public” for pumping purposes. This is based on section 4207 of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (check out this fact sheet that explains the break time requirement.) Breaks are not required to be paid unless paid break time is already provided and you use that allotted time (*and if you continue to work while you pump, you should be paid as such). The law is slightly vague as to how much time needs to be provided, how often, and what type of place is suitable for pumping.

evenflo feeding

The tricky part is who is included in this protection. The act states that “employees who work for employers covered by Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and are not exempt from section 7.”

Who does that typically include?

-Generally firms that have an annual dollar volume of more than $500,000
-Domestic service works are covered (day workers, housekeepers, chauffeurs, cooks, full time babysitters)
-Not generally included – hospitals, institutions that care for sick/aged/mentally ills/disabled, schools and government agencies. But if you are not covered in under this federal law, you may be covered by state laws.

It can be difficult to determine what your employer is required to offer you. So it is best to do a little research to figure out your rights before you go in to discuss this. Here is a great FAQ on Break Time for Nursing Mothers on the US Department of Labor’s website. Many employers might offer some flexibility for your pumping needs, but aren’t necessarily required to do so.

If you aren’t covered in this act, check your individual state laws. If you are covered under BOTH state and federal laws, the stronger law stands. If you have no coverage in either case, it is still good to talk to your boss about your wishes and see what options you have available. Your employer might offer these services even though it’s not required by law.

evenflo_10.15.2014_amycampbellphotography_0134

Plan ahead.

Once you are hooked up to your pump, the last thing you want to do is realize you forgot something and have to unhook and start all over. Whether your pump time is an included break or your own time, you don’t want to waste it. Stop in the restroom, grab a bottle of water, make sure you have all your parts and grab something to do. While it would be nice to sit and browse Facebook while pumping, I was taking time out of my plan hour (I’m a teacher) to do this. So unless I wanted to add on more work after school or at home (with newborns at home!) I had to multitask. (Extra tip: invest in a hands free pumping bra!). So I’d get everything all set, close the blinds, lock the door, and grab a stack of essays to grade. If you have a private space where you can work and pump that can help you to feel like you are still getting things done (and if you aren’t entitled to pumping breaks it should help your boss to see it as less of an inconvenience.)

Prep and Clean up.

If you have access to a clean sink (and don’t mind washing your pump parts in front of your coworkers) you can wash your parts after you pump so you’ll have a clean set for next time. There are also wipes that you can buy for this purpose. My solution was to bring two sets of parts and I’d bring an extra lunch bag and store the used pump parts in the fridge then use them a second time. If the parts are rinsed out after you pump and stored in the fridge, they are safe to use again later that day.

Discuss a plan with boss BEFORE you go on maternity leave.

If your workplace is lacking in a clean, private place to pump, it might take some time to get that ready. My schedule was set earlier in the year, so I petitioned for a plan hour in the middle of the morning. You might be able to set your lunch schedule or stagger it with other coworkers so that you can pump during that time.

healthy lunch

Make sure you eat and drink.

If you aren’t taking care of yourself it will hurt your supply and hinder your ability to be a good parent. You need to make sure you are drinking plenty of water, and eating throughout the day. I would always try to drink while I was pumping. I would also pack snacks in my pumping bag.

Did you know? 

  • 49 states have laws allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private location
  • 29 states exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws (sad that this needs to be written in a law but good to know!)
  • 27 states have laws relating to breastfeeding in the workplace
  • 17 states exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty (or allow for postponed service)
  • 5 states have implemented or encouraged breastfeeding awareness campaigns (way to go California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Vermont!)
  • New York created a Breastfeeding Mothers Bill of Rights

I live in Michigan so I looked up their laws. In Michigan, public nudity laws don’t apply if you are breastfeeding (good news, I can’t get arrested if I’m feeding my kid and accidentally flash someone!) Michigan moms can delay their jury duty if they are nursing and Act 197 “prohibits discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercises of the right to breastfeed and provides for the enforcement of the right to breastfeed”. Also in Michigan it’s illegal for businesses to refuse service to or kick out a mom who is nursing.

This article was written in the spring of 2016. Laws are changing all the time, so be sure to check with the Department of Labor to make sure all your information is up to date. Check out these additional resources for more information on pumping in the workplace. And if you want to take action to improve these laws, contact your elected officials to express your displeasure. Only through moms taking a stand now will things get better for the moms of the future.

Sstephaniecleland2tephanie Cleland is a high school teacher who traded in her teen students for adorable twin toddlers and now spends her days entertaining her almost 3 year “twinadoes”. She married her college sweet heart, Kirk, and her hobbies include scrapbooking and other creative projects. She also is working on a blog ilovemytwinadoes.weebly.com.


Related Articles

Methods For Pumping and Storing Breastmilk

Pump It Up: Exclusively Pumping For My Twins

The Beginners Guide To Breastfeeding


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