Breastfeeding and the Working Mom

I am a working mom.

I am a breasfteeding mom.

Often, those two roles are seem to be polar opposite, and sadly, they often are. In many of today’s industries, especially retail, service, and hospitality industries, the breastfeeding mom only has short breaks, if any, and as such, does not have the time to pump out the milk necessary for the continuation of breastfeeding. Within weeks of going back to work, her milk will cease to flow and thus ending any hopes of breastfeeding her child.

This is due to one of the major “laws” of breastfeeding, that of demand and supply. Essentially, this means that the more milk you “demand” (ie. pump, breastfeed, manually express), the more milk you will produce or “supply.” Unfortunately, for some working moms this simply isn’t possible as the only time they are able to pump is during their lunch break, and with pumping taking anywhere from 15-45 minutes,  which means the “break” isn’t much of one at all.

Looking back on the various jobs I have held, many of them would not have worked well with breastfeeding. From my very first job working fast food where I only received a 30 minute lunch break and two bathroom breaks, to working data entry/scanner in a severely overheated warehouse where there would have been enough break time, but no place to keep the milk refrigerated.

In these instances, if a new mom is wanting to continue breastfeeding, one of the things she can do is approach her manager, explain her desire, and present alternatives so that breastfeeding would not interfere with her job performance.

Some possibilities might be:

1. Come into work early/stay late in order to have additional breaks throughout the day
2. See if lunch can be eaten at the desk/station in order to free up the lunch break for pumping
3. Invest in a good, insulated cooler than keep something cool for 8+ hours
4. Invest in a quick, electric pump that could speed up pumping breaks

In my instance, I do not have scheduled “breaks” but am able to leave as long as someone covers the phones. Trying not to be a burden, I usually take a mid-morning break, pump, my lunch break, pump, and an afternoon break, pump, and then it’s home to feed my son. During those sessions, I’m able to extract enough to feed him for the next day, while anything I pump at home is stored away for extra occasions (i.e. eating out, traveling, hiking, etc.). Furthermore, I personally make use of a hand-pump, rather than an electric pump, due to the fact that I manage to produce 5 oz. in 15 minutes, which is more than I achieved even with the electric pump. In the end, it all comes down to finding what works best in each woman’s situation.

According to Workforce Moms, 55% of moms with children under the age of one work outside the home, some by choice, some because they have to in order to make ends meet. Either way, with breastfeeding recommended until the baby is at least 6 months, even those that were able to take the full 12 weeks of maternity leave still are left with another 12 weeks during which they must find a way to provide for the family and their baby.

One item that is usually brought up when discussing working moms is FMLA: Family and Medical Leave Act. If an employee has been at a company for longer than 12 months and has worked the eligable number of hours, then she qualities for FMLA. FMLA protects the rights of the pregnant working woman by stating that their job cannot be terminated due to the pregnancy, are entitled up to 12 weeks of leave, and that they are ensured an equivalent job when they return from maternity leave. However, at this time FMLA does not cover breastfeeding during working hours.

Yet, some strides have been made in providing for the breastfeeding working mom. The recently passed Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to “provide for breaks for female employees to express their milk, and requires employers to provide them with a location other than a restroom in which to do so” according to the FMLA Blog. While I don’t agree with certain parts of the Health Care Act, or the politics behind it, as a working breastfeeding mom, I do appreciate the measures set forth that will protect my right to nurture my child pass the first twelve weeks:

Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C.
207) is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘(r)(1) An employer shall provide—
‘‘(A) a reasonable break time for an employee to express
breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s
birth each time such employee has need to express the milk;
‘‘(B) a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from
view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public,
which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.
‘‘(2) An employer shall not be required to compensate an
employee receiving reasonable break time under paragraph (1) for
any work time spent for such purpose.
‘‘(3) An employer that employs less than 50 employees shall
not be subject to the requirements of this subsection, if such requirements
would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer
significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to
the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s
H. R. 3590—460
‘‘(4) Nothing in this subsection shall preempt a State law that
provides greater protections to employees than the protections provided
for under this subsection.’’.

This is a huge improvement over that benefits that were in place before, which was… nothing. Now, there is an actual legal aspect that all employers (with over 50 employees) must follow. Previously, some moms wanted to continue breastfeeding past the initial maternity leave but where unable to do to working constraints. Now, there are more possibilities and opportunities available than ever before.

With companies having a large amount of money invested in an employee (initial hiring costs, training costs, educations costs, certifications costs, etc), it is in their best interest to keep an employee if at all possible. That is why many companies have implemented ways for working moms to continue breastfeeding, even at the workplace. Yet, even before legal measures were put in place, individual companies made the choice to go above and beyond what they had to do by law.

In my own case, I was not eligible for FMLA having been with the company for less than 12 months, yet my manager and HR representative corroborated on my behalf so that I was extended the same courtesy as those that had been the required length of time. As such, I was able to take the full 12 weeks of maternity leave without using my paid vacation time, which I wanted to save for the holidays. Furthermore, my company worked with me so that starting at six weeks I worked part-time, three days a week, in order to gradually progress back into the workplace. That alone made the transition easier as I was able to learn how to juggle being a mom and a working mom, as well as gauge how much milk I would need to pump while at work, and how my production would be affected.

My company is just one of the hundreds, if not thousands, across the U.S. that have made similar strides in accommodating their employees. No longer see as a burden, one’s personal life is recognized as having a profound affect on job performance. The happier the home, the happier the person, the better the work. As such, companies are becoming more invested in the personal performance of the individual. In larger cities, corporations are not only providing for the breastfeeding mom, but also daycare, gyms, restaurants and coffee stands in the work place, yoga classes, and access to massage therapy and spa services. This has come to be known as “Workplace Wellness.” With society and industry finally showing proper attention to the body, soul, and mind of the person, rather than the production of the employee, the benefits for both abound.

Due to the above amendment, as well as changes in the workplace dynamic itself, moms are presented with more choices so that they are able to make the best decision for themselves, their baby, and their families, rather than have the decision made for them. In this waning economy, with jobs at a premium and finances at a minimum, many women have to work who would rather be at home with their children. Now, even though they have to work, they are still able to provide for their little ones, without jeopardizing their financial security, their job, or the precious bond between a mother and her child.

More great resources:
Breastfeeding in the American Workplace
10 Best Places to be a Working Mom
Corporate Efforts


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