Going Back to work after Maternity Leave
Going back to work after having a baby is one of those things your pre-baby self thought would be easy. Now though, it’s a very emotionally charged decision. Honestly, the last thing on your mind is breastfeeding workplace laws.
You might be struggling to imagine someone other than yourself taking care of your baby. Now maybe you are wondering if returning to work is the right fit for you.
On the other spectrum, you might be super excited and counting down the days to go back to work. (We are all different mama’s!) It sure is nice to slip into our “nice” clothing and be among other adults sometimes.
Maybe you feel a little bit of both.
Either way, going back to work is an adjustment, so give yourself grace. You probably won’t feel 100% in the office right off the bat. You will be extra tiered, less available after work hours and generally distracted now that you are a new mama.
When should I pump
Breastfeeding your infant has a ton of benefits. In case you need a refresher I got the list for you here.
Therefore, it makes sense to continue offering your baby breast milk, even if you are going back to work. Expressing your breast milk with a breast pump will be necessary. A pump can will build your freezer stash of your milk, and it can also help to increase milk supply.
I used to pump every 3-4 hours during the first 6 months of our son’s life. Every pump session was roughly 20 minutes. This time represents the moment I step into that pumping room to after I am stepping out. It also includes cleaning my pump supplies afterwards.
Personally, pumping 3x/ work day worked well. I’d have a pump-session mid-morning, one at the start of my lunch break and a third mid-afternoon.
By the time I was home at 5pm, I would pop those bags of milk into the freezer and breastfeed my little one in person.
I used the Ameda Finesse Breast Pump (Buy on Amazon) and really liked it. You can find my review here.
What to Expect from your Employer
When you return to work your employer should have a room set up for you to pump in private. It is not allowed to be a bathroom, and preferably with a door that can be locked for privacy.
Breastfeeding laws in the work place allows you to pump, without reprimand, whenever you feel the need to do so. A designated pumping room should be available to you anytime during the working hours.
Keep in mind that it is always better to keep an open communication with your employer. Even if these laws are in place, try to make the transition back as smooth as possible. It can also be an adjustment for your colleagues, if they are used to your pre-baby self
Depending on your place of work, they might already have a pumping room set up for employees. But if they don’t, it would help to give them instructions on exactly what you would need.
Fair Labor Standard’s Act
So this gets a little tricky. See, not all jobs were created the same and don’t abide by the same set of rules. However, the FLSA sets the bar for what is considered minimum workplace standards. This includes employees of minimum wage, overtime pay, youth work etc.
Before narrowing down your rights, make sure you know what your status is under the FLSA. Also, find out if the company you work for is exempt from their regulations (for example smaller businesses under 50 employees are often exempt).
A company might be exempt if::
- they have less than 50 employees
- claim to suffer hardship by allowing employees to pump during the work day
The easiest way to find out is to email your HR representative or your direct supervisor and ask.
Federal Laws versus State Laws
Before 2010, breastfeeding women had no legal rights to pump at work. It was at the employer’s discretion if they’d allow it.
Obama changed the landscape for all breastfeeding mothers in the work place when he created the “reasonable break time” provision within the Affordable Care Act. This is a federal law that protects all working mothers from being discriminated against for pumping at work.
Employers need to abide by both federal and state laws. The federal laws covers the whole USA, while each state has additional regulations in place to help breastfeeding mothers going back to work.
State Laws are not allowed to offer LESS than the federal laws, however if your state offers more benefits for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, your employer has a legal obligation to meet those requirements.
Federal Breastfeeding Laws at work
Below are the Federal Laws according to the Department of Labor:
- Reasonable break time to express milk (reasonable is subjective so its important to communicate your needs)
- Mothers should be allowed to pump at work until their infant has turned 12 months of age.
- Employers need to provide a comfortable and private place to pump. Bathrooms do not count.
Some employees and business can be exempt from FLSA laws, so make sure you know your employment status and that of the company you work for.
State Breastfeeding Laws at work
State laws can be different from the federal laws, however they will never offer fewer benefits. Employers and employees should check their State Laws for up to date laws for breastfeeding mothers.
If you are exempt from the FLSA regulations, your specific State might still have you covered so go here to check the requirements for your specific location.
To find out what your state laws are, go to their homepage and search for ‘expressing milk in the workplace’.
You can also go to the (NCSL) National Council of State Legislators website and find their Breastfeeding State Laws page. Scroll down and choose a State. A list of laws surrounding breastfeeding in your state will give you all the information you need.
Should I get paid when pumping at work?
Federal laws under the FLSA does not require employer to compensate for break times used to express milk. However, some state laws require compensation so its important to check them too.
Find out what Breastfeeding State Laws govern your place of work.
What to do if my employer does not follow breastfeeding laws?
Although there are laws in pace for an employee to express milk during the work day, don’t forget that communicating your specific needs is very important.
Letting your employer know what times you need to express your milk for example, will allow everyone to adjust their expectations. This can help reduce possible frustrations in case someone is looking for you when you are gone pumping.
It is always easier to speak up about your concerns with a supervisor before submitting a formal complaint. Sometimes it might be a case of miscommunication and your supervisor will be able to help you through this process.
However, despite your best efforts, at times companies disregard or are not well-educated on breastfeeding in the workplace rights. Sometimes, mothers going back to work are not being treated per the letter of the law and in those cases you should submit a complaint.
Complaints go through the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD).
its important to file a complaint if the issue doesn’t get resolved. This way you pave the path for other mothers who come after you at your place of employment.
A long road ahead
This is just the beginning of a long road ahead as we shift societies perceptions of breastfeeding. As its practices become more mainstream, the importance of pumping at work will become more accepted.
If society understood the wider spread benefits of breastfeeding, beyond that of a mother and child, many might see it in a different light. Did you know that the USA could save an estimate of $13B annually in healthcare costs (source) if all women breastfed for the first six months?
Going back to work after having a baby is a big step for mothers because the experience of becoming a parent is life altering. I hope the company you work is sensitive towards women and this very sensitive time in their lives. I’d be interested in hearing what your experience has been going back to work.
Were you offered a space to express milk when returning to work?