Balancing work and family can be difficult, to say the least—especially with an infant. And as any working mother will tell you, breastfeeding can rank right up there on the “challenges” list.
Overall, the percentage of women who breastfeed is on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding, the CDC reports that just over 20% of US mothers do so.
Why? One reason is that women who go back to work after three months are less likely to plan to exclusively breastfeed, according to an August 2104 study in the Journal of Human Lactation.
Pumping breast milk at work can help you stick to your resolve to provide breast milk to your baby, either exclusively or as often as possible. Here are seven tips for lactating moms who are returning to work.
There are laws in place to protect women in the workplace who are breastfeeding. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one, and it applies nationwide.
Debi Ferrarello, MSN, Director of Family Education and Lactation at Penn Medicine, says many states have their own statutes about breastfeeding and how employers must accommodate your pumping needs. So, it’s worth looking into your rights ahead of time.
Talk To Human Resources
Not all women are aware that Human Resources is the place to go for information about pumping at the office.
“When you come into HR, come in already armed with knowledge about breastfeeding laws,” Debi recommends. For example, you can find some resources on the US Department of Health and Human Services website.
“Don’t just ask HR for resources—offer to share your resources with them,” Debi says.
Talk About It Ahead Of Time
When women get back to work, they might run into resentment from colleagues. “Coworkers might feel like the mother is getting extra time off or won’t get her work done,” Debi explains. “I recommend that pregnant women speak to coworkers ahead of time to reassure them that they will complete all of their work.”
Debi also mentions being proactive with your manager. “If you are going to need some more ‘creative’ accommodations—as in, more than a room to pump—come in with a positive attitude and already expecting to collaborate,” she says.
Debi had a patient who lived in Philadelphia but worked three days a week in another city. “Breastfeeding was very important to her, so she made arrangements to be able to pump at every place she would be going and staying while traveling. It was a positive and collaborative effort,” she says.
Get Prepared To Pump
“Invest in a good breast pump and a hands-free pumping device,” says Debi. “ I would recommend making an appointment with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to talk about preparing to return to work. Breastfeeding counseling is a covered benefit under the Affordable Care Act.”
Insurance plans are required to cover the cost of a breast pump, notes the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. So, it might not cost you anything.
Also, get emotionally prepared. There are plenty of support systems in place for nursing women who are having trouble. Look into mother-to-mother counseling through Breastfeeding USA or breastfeeding groups through La Leche League. Debi recommends, “If you don’t have time or cannot find a group, there are plenty of online support groups.”
Learn more about the parenting and breastfeeding classes and support groups at Pennsylvania Hospital and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Learn How To Pump Without Your Baby
Sometimes, women need a little help getting the milk flowing if they are not near their babies. The Office on Women’s Health offers several tips for overcoming this challenge:
- Picture the milk coming out
- Imagine a relaxing setting
- Gently massage your breasts or nipples
- Apply a moist and warm compress to your breasts
- Think about your little one
Treasure The Moments
When maternity leave is over, and you head back to work, it can be hard to be away from your baby. That feeling is natural.
“Women in this stage may be going through a grieving process, particularly when it comes to breastfeeding,” Debi explains. “The connection of breastfeeding is special, so it can be difficult when they can’t do it all the time.”
Her advice? “Pump at work and then let yourself enjoy that special bond when you get home. Let it be a comfort.”
Fight For Your Rights
Unfortunately, employers don’t always comply with the law. They might say that they can’t accommodate you, and that’s that. Or colleagues might be disrespectful, like making jokes about milk in the fridge.
It can be scary and stressful to pursue it, but Debi reminds women, “It’s empowering to stand up for what’s best for you and your child. If your boss is not being compliant, head over to HR. But if HR won’t help either, there are legal resources to help you take legal action.”
Debi advises women to look into local and state laws beyond the ACA and see if there is a local organization that assists.
If the problem persists, don’t give up. The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing regulations, according to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, and you can file a complaint with them.