The Struggle of Working Mothers to Pump Breast Milk for Their Infants

Jenny Murray, BSN, RN / April 2019


I have yet to hear a mother say, “I like to pump (breast milk)”. I have heard all mothers say, “I want what’s best for my baby.”

Pumping is not something mothers “desire” to do, but for the sake of their infants, they do it. Fighting for a place and/or time to do so in the workplace can, at times, bring an unexpected set of challenges. Thankfully, laws have been passed that have ensured mothers have adequate places and times set aside to pump if desired.

With over 50% of mothers going back to work prior to their child’s first birthday, those that desire to continue to give breast milk and/or breastfeed must pump. It is significant to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends infants breastfeed the first six months to one year of life.

Breastfeeding health benefits

There are many health benefits breast milk and breastfeeding provide to both the infant and the mother.  Benefits to the infant include protection from respiratory tract infection, otitis media, late-onset sepsis in preterm infants, type 1 and 2 diabetes, urinary tract infections, childhood obesity, lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkin’s disease to name a few. Benefits to the mother include decreased postpartum bleeding, and decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Let’s not forget benefits to employers. Mothers who breastfeed provide significant immunity to their infants, which means less time missed from work because of sick children.

The difficulties mothers face pumping at work

Stories like the most recent one in the NY Times about a mother who “smuggled” her breast pump into the workplace highlight difficulties mothers face when they need to pump. The article, The Pumping Conspiracy – Why Workers Smuggled Breast Pumps Into Prison discussed prison workers who were not given a place to pump beyond the prison metal detecting system, but instead were asked to pump in the men’s bathroom prior to entering the prison.

The breast pump was opaque, and the risk of drugs that could be smuggled in because the pump was not transparent was risky. One mother decided to risk her job and hide pieces of her breast pump in her bra to smuggle it beyond the prison metal detectors. It took several trips/days for her to smuggle all pieces of the breast pump into her workplace. Once she successfully had all parts of the breast pump beyond the prison metal detectors, she continued to pump in concealed areas, such as private offices, and using cardboard to cover windows.

This is only one such instance, but it clearly describes the commitment mothers have to support what is best for their babies. Fortunately, these types of stories are becoming less common because of actions taken to support mothers in their breastfeeding efforts.

Laws have been passed to protect mothers who desire to pump.  Some of these laws include:

  • Supporting Working Moms Act – this Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to require employers to provide basic accommodations such as time and space for breastfeeding mothers at work.
  • Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act – requires certain buildings to have a “dedicated lactation room that is apart from the public view and free from intrusion.”
  • Friendly Airport for Mothers Act (FAM) – Many mothers travel for work, and spend extended amounts of time in airports. This legislation was passed to support breastfeeding mothers in airports.

A highlight for employee satisfaction

Employee satisfaction is driven to improve employee loyalty, increase productivity, and lower turnover. Part of increasing satisfaction for nursing mothers is to provide them a place to pump in a clean, private area. Being away from their child is stress enough. Providing breast milk, sometimes referred to as “liquid gold,” is something that should be doable for all nursing mothers – whether they are traveling, out in a public place with their infant, or away from their baby for whatever the reason may be.

If you are an employer or own/manage a public company, you may benefit from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ “What Employers Need to Know” resource. It can inform you of supportive opportunities for breastfeeding mothers. After all, we know breast milk is “medicine” for a premature or sick child, or a preventative measure for an otherwise healthy infant.



Kitroeff, Natalie. “’A Pumping Conspiracy’: Why Workers Smuggled Breast Pumps Into Prison.” New York Times, 31 Dec. 2018.

U.S. Department of Labor – Wage and Hour Division (WHD) – Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act  Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision,

United States, Congress, House – Transportation and Infrastructure | Senate – Environment and Public Works.  Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2017: Report (to Accompany H.R. 1174) (Including Cost Estimate of the Congressional Budget Office), U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2017. 115th Congress, bill.

Duckworth, and Tammy. “S.1110 – 115th Congress (2017-2018): Friendly Airports for Mothers Act of 2017.”, 11 May 2017,

“Benefits of Breastfeeding.”


About the Author

Jenny Murray, BSN, RN, began her career 18 years ago as a neonatal nurse in neonatal intensive care. She has since served in a variety of nursing leadership roles within the NICU. Her experience in those roles has driven her love for education and research, especially educating and supporting clinicians in the advancing, innovative world of neonatology. Jenny currently works as a Clinical NICU Specialist for Medela LLC.