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Your Guide to Pumping at Work

Your rights, your time, and dealing with your coworkers

Meredith Boe
Contributor

new mom

New mom? If you’ve decided to breastfeed your baby, managing pumping in the workplace can be a huge pain. Literally.

For breastfeeding mothers, if you average that you’ll spend 15 minutes breastfeeding at work a few times per workday, your time away from your desk can add up fast. You might feel stressed or guilty, even though your body and your baby clearly require your attention.

If you have this anxiety about breastfeeding at work, first understand you’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, around 59 percent of mothers with children under the age of 3 participated in the workforce if they were married and 67.2 if they were unmarried. In other words, plenty of breastfeeding women have come before you—and odds are, they felt the same way you do.

You should also know that you have the right to a secure place to pump and time to do so. Break Time for Nursing Mothers, a federal law, requires “employers to provide break time and a place for most hourly wage-earning and some salaried employees (nonexempt workers) to express breast milk at work.” The law also mandates that place be somewhere other than a bathroom and private so that other coworkers can’t interrupt.

Beyond legal requirements, it’s in companies’ best interest to accommodate working moms, both for retention purposes and because, well, they’re some of the most productive workers around. Studies have shown that mothers actually outperform women who don’t have children over the course of their careers. Who cares if mommas take breaks to pump if they’re still outpacing their peers? 

All that to say, if you’re stressed or anxious, remember your time is protected and valuable. Now use this guide to schedule time to pump at work and address the topic with your coworkers, if necessary.

Read more: CEO of Winnie: How I Pumped At Work

Scheduling time to pump

The first step for your pumping plan is to schedule time to do it at work. Block off sections on your calendar so you won’t be invited to meetings or events during these times. These breaks should be just as important as any work obligation you have.

Consider investing in an extra pump to leave at work, so you don’t have to transport it from home. A double breast pump is best, as it can help you reduce the time you spend pumping throughout the day.

And how many times a day should you plan to do it? This is different for every mom, so pay attention to your body and your baby. Keep a record of when you feel you need to pump, how often, or if you’ve actually scheduled too much time for the activity.

Generally, you’ll need to pump every three to four hours during your workday, according to Healthline and the Mayo Clinic. Pumping sessions should be for about 15 minutes.

Don’t forget that you’ll also need to incorporate enough time to clean your pumping equipment. This includes taking the pump apart to rinse all its parts. Tack on 5 to 10 minutes for this part of the process. 

Excusing yourself to pump

Say you’re in a very long meeting that’s started to bleed into your pumping time. Or, you’re in a meeting and unexpectedly need to pump, like right now. You’re ready to get out of there, and everything hurts.

Instead of panicking, all you have to do is simply excuse yourself—you don’t have to give a reason for leaving the meeting. You’re an adult, after all, and we no longer have to raise our hands to ask to go to the bathroom. Unless you’re up to speak next or you’re running things, sneaking away to pump is totally acceptable. (It should be expected if your coworkers know what you’re going through.)

If you don’t feel comfortable leaving, perhaps try to steer the meeting in a direction toward closure. Or, you can say you have another obligation in 5 minutes that you have to get to, so that your colleagues have a time limit and know you will be leaving the meeting in 5 minutes.

If you get any flack about leaving a meeting early, first remember that it’s really none of your coworkers’ business that you have personal needs. Always talk to your manager or someone else who you trust if this happens. You don’t have to deal with discrimination on your own. Again, it’s your legal right to take this time.

Read more: All Your FMLA & Maternity Leave Questions Answered

Scheduling snacks (and drinks) around pumping

Another challenge is knowing how to schedule snacking throughout the day when you’re pumping. 

So when do you eat and drink? According to Snigdha Jain, M.D., you actually need more daily calories when pumping than you did during pregnancy. 

When Dr. Jain was a new mom, she says, “Even as a doctor who knew better, I found myself hungry, thirsty, tired, and dealing with leg cramps at work. I sometimes wondered if I was the only one facing these challenges.” She says she stopped prioritizing her own health because she was so focused on her baby’s.

Dr. Jain recommends packing snacks and water with your pumping equipment, in addition to taking calcium supplements. She also says that talking to her coworkers about motherhood helped her relieve stress.

Pack snacks with plenty of protein, like nuts, or bring fruits and vegetables that will hydrate you while providing you nutrients. Water is very important for breastfeeding mothers, as Carley Mendes, nutritionist and founder of Hello, Motherhood and Oh Baby Nutrition, told Epicurious. (The article also goes through some recommendations for packing snack packs and preparing smoothies.)

How to talk to your manager about pumping breaks

The United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) offers some solid advice for talking through these issues with your manager or employer. For example, if you ask for a separate space to pump, and all you’re offered is the bathroom, that just won’t cut it.   (See again the Break Time for Working Mothers law.)

Liz Morris, Deputy Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings College of the Law, told the Muse, “Breast milk is food for babies, so it cannot be prepared in a toilet stall.” You need a clean space that also has its own lock for privacy.

If your manager expresses concerns about your frequent pumping breaks, offer a solution that looks like normal breaks from work. Because workers are entitled to breaks throughout the day by law, this shouldn’t be any different—and isn’t. Presenting it as such might help your manager see the similarities.

According to the USBC, another way to get management to understand the importance of pumping throughout the day is to remind them about physiology: If you don’t pump, your milk supply will go down and you may not have enough later. You have to do this to support your child.

Supported employees are happier employees. If your manager or colleagues have trouble understanding the importance of pumping, it may be time to chat with HR. And remember to be clear and direct about what you need and how they can better support you through this temporary time.

Ready to get pumping? Don’t forget that you have rights in the workplace. Schedule enough break time by blocking off your calendar, and make it clear to your manager how important this time really is. 

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