How to Pump at Work: What Working Moms Should Consider

With the advent of new pumping technology (hello, hands-free!) and landmark legislation expanding rights for pumping moms, it's easier than ever to continue providing breast milk to your baby after returning to work.

If you’ve recently returned to the workforce – or will be soon! – here’s the lay of the land in terms of knowing your rights as a breastfeeding parent, talking to your employer and making a successful transition back to work while still providing that important liquid gold nutrition for your growing little one.

Remember, You Won't Be the Only One Pumping at Work!

In the wake of updated guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics urging longer breastfeeding durations, there has been an uptick in working mamas who are saying yes to the pump. These moms are all in on the hard work and dedication required to hit their breastfeeding goals and express milk while away from their babies.

In fact, according to The Moms’ Thoughts on Breastfeeding in the News survey conducted by Medela and Kin in October 2022 – which included more than 2,500 new or expectant mother respondents – 97% of breastfeeding moms plan to continue their breast milk feeding journey after they return to work. So, chances are high that you won’t be alone in navigating your return to work with your breastfeeding journey, mama!

How to Pump at Work While Knowing Your Rights

Here’s the scoop on the legal landscape, as of this publication. This past year brought historic news for working moms, with two new federal laws on the books that expand protections for pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding employees. In terms of nursing mothers, it’s important to know that employers are required by law to provide employees with the time and space to pump – and that space cannot be a bathroom.

The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act

The PUMP Act is a big win for working mamas. This law requires employers of all sizes to provide reasonable break times and a clean, private space for employees to express milk for up to one year after the birth of a baby. Here’s some other important highlights to know:

  • The pumping space provided cannot be a bathroom, it must be shielded from view and free from intrusion, and it should be available anytime pumping is needed.
  • Employers cannot limit the number of breaks or duration of each break. Employers also cannot force an employee to work during their pumping break.
  • If employees work during their pumping break, the time must be paid and counted towards overtime calculations for non-exempt employees. If employees are relieved of all duties during their pumping breaks, then these can be unpaid.
  • All types of workers are covered, whether you’re onsite, off-site, remote or traveling.
  • All employers are required to comply. If your employer has fewer than 50 employees, they can be exempt only if they can prove “undue hardship”.
  • Employers cannot retaliate against a lactating employee.
  • Employees can file a complaint with the Department of Labor, after notifying their employer of any issues, and may seek other remedies.

Check out these helpful resources for more information:

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)

Together with the PUMP Act, the PWFA paves the way for more protection and flexibility for growing families in the workforce. Using a similar framework to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the PWFA helps pregnant, postpartum and lactating employees perform their essential duties by providing access to reasonable accommodations:

  • For pumping workers, reasonable accommodations might include reasonable breaks, private (non-bathroom) lactation spaces, flex time to attend doctor appointments and more.
  • The law requires employers to engage in an interactive or “good faith” process to learn about a worker’s needs in timely fashion.
  • Pregnant or postpartum workers don’t need to have a pregnancy-related disability to be protected and eligible for these accommodations. This is a key change to existing law.
  • All pregnant and postpartum workers are covered, including remote, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers, as well as job applicants.
  • Employers cannot deny employment opportunities to a qualified employee or applicant based on the worker’s need for accommodation. Employers also cannot retaliate against someone for making a request or filing a complaint under the PWFA.
  • Only employers with less than 15 employees total (across all locations) are exempt.

Here are more resources detailing this law:

Local and State Protections

Be sure to also familiarize yourself with any local or state laws that may offer additional protections. For example, the PUMP Act offers protection up to one year after the birth of your baby, but some state protections extend beyond that timeframe. Other local laws may require that a lactation space must be outfitted with things like running water or refrigeration, whereas the PUMP Act doesn’t specifically require those accommodations.

To dig into statewide or local guidelines that may benefit you, see these resources:

What if Your Employer Isn’t Familiar with Current Lactation Laws?

With newer legislation, your employer may not be totally versed yet in what exactly is required. It’s important to note, though, that the PUMP Act and PWFA are now fully enforceable. To start, engage your manager and/or Human Resources in a conversation and share resources to help them get up to speed. Medela has an entire team dedicated to working with employers to develop customized, fully compliant lactation solutions!

Here are some additional resources that may be helpful to pass along to your employer:

How to Pump at Work: Start Planning During Pregnancy

The sooner you start planning how your return to work will look, the smoother your transition from breastfeeding at home to pumping while away from your little one. It’s never too early to anticipate the questions you may have or what you may need to make pumping at work, work!

During Pregnancy

  • Research and know your rights. We know it’s a busy time and there are a lot of to-do’s! Try to remember to take some time and review all applicable laws, so you feel completely informed.
  • Get clear on your benefits. Sometimes there can feel like a break down between what’s offered and what employees actually know about. According to The Moms’ Thoughts on Breastfeeding in the News survey conducted by Medela and Kin in October 2022, more than a third (38%!) of working moms weren’t sure what – if any – breastfeeding support is offered at their workplace.

    Check in with HR to learn what benefits and resources are available to you to ease your transition back to work. Be sure to ask what your company’s lactation policy is!
  • Initiate a convo with your manager. Once you’ve done your homework on your employer’s policies, touch base with your manager to talk through your pumping needs upon your return.
  • Find your lactation space. If your employer already has a designated lactation space, be sure to check it out now so you know what’s supplied and what you’ll need to bring from home. For example, your employer may provide a multi-user pump so employees like yourself don’t have to bring a pump back and forth.

    If your employer doesn’t have a lactation space yet, start a conversation to identify or create one. Remember, you’re entitled to a clean, private space that is not a bathroom! The space should also be a reasonable distance from your work space, otherwise pumping sessions may take longer.
  • Understand how break times work. Your manager should know that pumping break times will likely vary, and the first few weeks will take some trial and error to establish a set schedule. Pumping sessions can take anywhere from 20 – 40 minutes each, and you may need to pump 2 – 3 times daily. Remember, your employer is not permitted to dictate the time and duration of your breaks.

During Parental Leave

  • Research breast pumps. With innovations in technology and the advent of hands-free pumping, Medela has you covered with a range of popular pumps backed by decades of clinical research. Consider your environment and schedule as you’re selecting the right pump for your needs. Are you a hybrid worker? Then you may need two pumps, one for at home and one for onsite. Or, if you commute a longer distance by car, a hands-free breast pump would help you maximize that travel time.

    Be sure to check if you’re eligible for a pump through your health insurance plan. Our Insurance Concierge simplifies the process for busy moms.
  • Practice pumping while you’re on leave. Start easing into a pumping routine while you’re still in the comfort of your home. Learn how to assemble and properly clean your pump – Soon, you’ll be doing it in record time! You’ll also get an idea how long you need during each pump session to fully express and empty your breasts.
  • Pack your pumping bag. Trust us, mama, you’ll need all the things! A thoughtfully packed bag will save you time and time again. Pack must-have breastfeeding accessories like disposable nursing pads, storage bags and sanitizing spray and wipes. Consider keeping back-up pump parts on hand too. Other nice-to-have items include a water bottle, snacks and a high-quality nipple cream for some much-deserved TLC.
  • Identify your lactation support. If you run into some bumps along the way while balancing work and pumping, that’s totally fine – and even expected at times! Plan ahead by identifying a go-to resource to get your breastfeeding questions answered quickly, such as your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant. See if your employer’s health plan offers a telehealth service that includes virtual access to a lactation or pediatric expert. Getting your questions answered in the moment will minimize stress and keep you on track.

Your Return to Work

  • Block out pumping time. Whether you work remotely, onsite or a combination of both, it’s important to block out time on your work calendar(s) for your pumping sessions, so you don’t end up with conflicting engagements or meetings during those times.
  • Settle into your lactation space. Look for ways to streamline your pumping sessions. Does your lactation space have a storage locker so you don’t have to carry your pump back and forth? Is there a nearby sink to expedite the cleaning process? Is there a fridge or freezer inside the lactation space used exclusively for storing pumped milk? Knowing what to expect can help you plan how you’ll approach pumping at work and what you’ll need to bring with you.
  • Devise a storage and transport system for your liquid gold. Congratulations, mama, you’ve done the hard work! Now it’s time to protect your little one’s milk, so he or she can enjoy every drop later. Be sure to label and store your milk in a refrigerator and use a cooler to transport it home. These tips on safely handling breast milk will help ensure none of that liquid gold goes to waste!
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