Oh the places you will pump. It could be a Dr. Seuss book, no? Maybe not. But working moms returning to work still intent on keeping their breast milk supply up for their baby face all kinds of work and home-life balancing acts and many breast-pumping moms still hide away in the work bathroom in order to pump or have to ask for a key for a designated closet. Such is life. You’ll need to remember your pump. You’ll need to remember an extra top should there be an … ahem … stain. You’ll need a little cooler that fits into the break-room fridge — or a cooler you can keep at your desk. You’ll need to include others — at times — in your personal business in the event you miss a few moments of an important meeting. Sigh.
The good news is we have come quite a ways from the silence and sneaking that breast-pumping at work used to entail. A new confidence for pumping on the job has emerged in the workplace so mothers armed with a little knowledge can make a plan for when and where to pump. Moms returning from maternity leave, breast pump in hands, have more options than those of the past.
You’re going to need support from all corners — especially your employer — to stay on track and not give up when you’re away from your baby. It’s not always easy.
Pumping and returning to work is hard, stressful, and often times, the cause of weaning,” says Ashley Brown-Combs, a certified lactation consultant and owner of Blue Cocoon, a boutique and play café for new moms located in Olde Montgomery.
You will need to arm yourself for the bumpy road ahead, keeping your sweet baby in your mind’s eye throughout your day.
Know Your Rights
Pumping at work begins with knowing your rights. Kentucky and Ohio don’t have state laws regarding workplace pumping, but Break Time For Nursing Mothers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that companies with more then 50 employees provide “reasonable break time” to express breast milk for one year after the child’s birth. Employers must also provide a place other than a bathroom for nursing moms. As for the moms working for small businesses, it’s a work-it-out-with-your-employer world out there, and many women end up winging it.
Combs advises that moms planning to pump in the workplace speak to co-workers, management and the HR department (if there is one), explaining that often, someone before you has been in a similar situation. Office policies are likely already in place. Just be sure to provide plenty of notification about your plans, like local mom Betsy Brown.
“In preparation for going back, I directly emailed my boss about what I would need (a private area with a door that locked), how much time it would take for me to pump while I was at work (30 minutes), and how we would work the time clock. My boss was very understanding and flexible with the use of her office for pumping and using my lunch time to pump.” Brown adds that even though her return to work was part-time, it was still a challenge to haul all her equipment and supplies and to learn to eat “one-handed.”
Some moms may find themselves navigating more than one workplace. Alix Sheffield, a local mom of two, was given access to a nurse’s office with a locked door for pumping use. She was also able to keep a mini-fridge in her office area. But occasionally, Sheffield had to travel for work and that meant the pump traveled with her. “I would just let the HR manager know and they would provide a conference room,” she says. And when her second child came along, the office was already prepared, making pumping at work much easier.
Pumping in an office is of course not the same as being at home with your little one, and that can actually have an effect on your breast milk supply — not to mention your motivation. But a few practical tips might make it easier.
“I tried to stick to the same schedule,” says Sheffield. “Consistency is key with supply.” She advises to also plan ahead and create a daily routine to help with maintaining that schedule.
Combs agrees. “Try to pump on your baby’s nursing schedule — about every three hours or so,” she says.
Brown tells moms to not worry about things like laundry and the dishes when they get home at the end of the day, and instead focus on spending time with your little one. “Enjoy having a baby, because those moments have an expiration date,” she says.
Most importantly, make sure you have plenty of support from family, fellow mommy friends, co-workers and your employers. It will go a long way — for everyone.
“Just because you’re going back to work doesn’t mean you can not reach your breastfeeding goals,” says Combs. “Often times, moms quit breastfeeding as they return to the workplace. Stress, no support at work, lack of family support, decreasing supply, and finding time to pump often play into supply issues and weaning at the breast.” She recommends you seek help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Breastfeeding USA, and the La Leche League, or find support groups like My Breastfeeding Lifestyle which meets regularly at Blue Cocoon.
If necessary, educate your employer on the benefits of pumping. According to Combs, “Moms who provide breast milk through pumping will have fewer missed sick days and be a happier employee. Simply allowing a mom 20 – 30 minutes of pumping two to three times during the work day can have great impact on a company and its employees.”
Can We Do Better?
Of course! “Over the years, I’ve seen some improvement in work place pumping and support,” says Combs. “I do feel that we have more to improve on. Often times, moms feel stressed trying to pump and this stress plays into their milk production.” She adds that while most moms don’t like to pump, they do love the benefits that breast milk provides, and that alone makes it worth it.
Successful Pumping at Work
• Know your rights
• Have a support system in place
• Keep a consistent schedule
• Stay hydrated
• Don’t rush — make sure you completely express
• Rent a hospital-grade breast pump for the first month
• Consider double pumps and a hands-free pumping bra
• Keep an item of your baby’s nearby like a blanket or picture
• Build a supply in your home freezer about 4 – 6 weeks before returning to work
• Try paced feeding — a way to slow down the flow from a bottle to mimic the breast