State of Breastfeeding Survey: 7 Realities about Pumping in the Workplace

As we celebrate and advocate for breastfeeding annually every August, a new 2023 State of Breastfeeding Survey* from Medela and Mamava suggests that parents lack the infrastructure needed to meet their personal goals and the latest American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. We heard from 15,000+ breastfeeding parents – the majority of whom are in the workforce and struggling with the most basic of rights, like navigating break times and finding a reliable place to pump.

Kin + Mamava State of Breastfeeding Survey infographic

Newly rolled out federal protections like the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) are a sign of hope and progress for working moms, granting historic gains for pregnant, postpartum and pumping employees. Yet our research reveals that gaps remain between what’s possible (and legally required) for working women and the reality on the ground.

“Over the last decade, we’ve seen significant progress in education, policy and infrastructure that makes breastfeeding a more realistic option for anyone who wants to do it – but not nearly enough to support parents in meeting their personal goals, or the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to breastfeed for two years,” says Sascha Mayer, co-founder and chief experience officer at Mamava. “We need better education and more inclusive communities and work environments.”

According to our latest survey, parents are highly motivated to breastfeed their babies for its health benefits (83%) but face significant hurdles, particularly around pumping breast milk, which about 3 in 4 breastfeeding parents do at least some of the time.

We’re falling short, even with the new federal protections

While mothers are undeterred in their quest to provide nutrition to their babies, our research shows we have some work to do when it comes to delivering supportive social and workplace cultures. Only 15% of breastfeeding women feel that public spaces are fully supportive of their needs.

“That’s a big tell. We still need to break through the stigmas associated with breastfeeding in public and in the workplace,” said Dana Kirwin, director of employer and government relations at Medela. “We should all care about breastfeeding, because it ultimately touches all of us. Breastfeeding staves off billions in potential healthcare costs, results in fewer absences for moms and saves employers money through higher retention rates. Moreover, a breastfeeding friendly culture means more choice, more equitable job access and more balance in caregiving duties.”

1 The majority of breastfeeding women are in the workforce.

  • 77% of breastfeeding women work full or part time

We’re not surprised. This finding aligns with last year’s survey indicating that women are dedicated to breastfeeding for longer durations, even when returning to work. Our past research shows that women rose to the occasion in the wake of the formula crisis and the AAP’s guidelines calling for longer breastfeeding of 2 years and beyond.

Employers need to establish what’s necessary to support new parents’ very real, very fragile return-to-work experiences. It’s a critical juncture where employees are also assessing just how flexible and family-friendly their workplace may be for the long-term health of their family.

2 Most breastfeeding parents use a pump.

  • 65% of breastfeeding parents use a pump – with 16% exclusively pumping breast milk

Pumping has become an integral part of the breastfeeding experience, especially for working mothers who are away from their babies for part of the day. They rely on pumps to maintain their milk flow and build up breast milk stores. Advances in pumping technology are giving women even more options and flexibility to reach their breastfeeding goals while working.

Reminder: Most health insurance plans are required to cover the purchase or rental of a breast pump, and employers should be versed in guiding employees on how to go about getting a pump. Medela also offers a concierge service to help moms navigate the insurance process.

3 The logistics of pumping are difficult – and downright daunting without the right resources.

  • 61% cite the logistics of pumping (e.g. packing, set-up, cleaning the parts) as a key challenge of pumping breast milk

When an employee needs to pump, there are multiple steps to a single pumping session: they make their way to the lactation space with pump in hand, set up the pump, express milk, disassemble the pump, clean everything, safely store their milk and then, finally, check their appearance before returning to work. Anything an employer can do to simplify this chain of events is a much-appreciated accommodation.

Employers have a powerful role to play here by offering benefits like a hospital grade (multi-user) pump which eliminates the hassle of dragging a pump to each session, or at the minimum, a storage locker in the space for employees to stash a pump.

4 Breastfeeding moms need a break, literally.

  • 47% say a lack of time during the day for breaks makes pumping challenging

Through both the PUMP Act and the PWFA, pumping parents have the right to take as many breaks (which can be unpaid if no work is performed) as needed to maintain their milk supply. These breaks may fluctuate in frequency and duration based on where a woman is in her breastfeeding journey. But without pumping breaks, a person’s milk supply can wane and lead to other health problems like infections. 

If an employee is tentative about taking the breaks she needs to pump, it’s time to evaluate the workplace culture. Be sure managers and colleagues are supportive instead of judgmental. Encourage employees to block out time on their calendars.

Not all workers have access to a lactation space.

  • 1 in 3 lack reliable access to a workplace lactation space

If a third of women aren’t confident they have a space to pump, that signifies a huge gap for employers who must be compliant with the new PUMP Act federal protections. Employees have the right to a private, clean space that is not a bathroom.

If you do already offer a lactation space, you’ll want to explore its reliability. If it’s a shared space, is it readily available whenever a pumping employee needs it? Is it relatively easy to get to? Is it near running water, and does it offer access to an electrical outlet? All of these factors determine the functionality of a space. Without these considerations, you may leave yourself open to complaints and legal risks.

6  Pumping on the go is even more challenging.

  • 53% say that finding a place to pump or nurse when on the go presents an obstacle

For employees who are on their feet all day or travel frequently, finding a place to pump on the go is even tougher. Employers can help by covering the cost of more portable pumps that allow for more discrete pumping while on the move, like a battery-powered, hands-free pump.

Hands-free versions include in-bra collection cups and a pocket-size pump that’s easily charged with a USB port. Another best practice is to cover the costs of shipping breast milk for traveling employees.

Reminder: under the PUMP Act, employers are now responsible for ensuring their employees have time and space to pump wherever they are while they are working. This means employers must consider any offsite locations where employees are expected to spend time as part of their job.

7  It’s everyone’s job to advocate for breastfeeding rights in the workplace.

  • 1 in 2 parents are unsure about their workplace lactation rights

Employers can help educate all employees by sharing news about the newest protections like the PUMP Act and PWFA in company-wide communications, along with targeted outreach to pregnant and postpartum employees.   To reflect the monumental shift in rights for pumping employees, the U.S. Department of Labor has updated the required Fair Labor Standards Act poster to include the PUMP Act.

Kin offers a number of resources to help employers go from merely compliant to true advocates for working mothers.

*The 2023 State of Breastfeeding Survey was fielded by Medela and Mamva over two weeks in June 2023. Respondents were U.S. parents who are currently nursing or have breastfed within the last two years, totaling 15,551 responses.