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Breastfeeding at Work: Do you know your rights?

Upon returning to work, many of us have become fast friends with our breast pumps.  We have worked hard to find a pumping routine that works for our workplaces and our schedules, but this commitment has not been easy.  

Today, MomsRising.org posted a great piece about pumping at work,  highlighting the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.  And, it makes sense.  Breastfeeding is linked to many positive health outcomes, including protecting mama & babe from illnesses, from post-partum depression, from the risk of obesity.  And, with lots of us mamas now in the workplace, playing important roles as "wage-earners" in our households, we can't just stop breastfeeding just because we go to work.

Once at work, we need support to help us continue with our breastfeeding.  We need a private place to pump, not a cold sometimes- or usually-vacant storage room where I tried pumping a few times.  Not an unlocked conference room with blinds (are you sure no one can see in?) where I positioned a chair against the door while leaning forward because the electrical outlet was a good three-feet from the door that I was trying to protect.  Not in the "quiet room" on the eleventh floor where employees sometimes went to nap, where there was no guarantee that it would be available, where it took about 10 minutes round-trip to get due to the inefficient elevators (that cuts into my productivity!).  No, not there.

Here in Oregon, we have a Breastfeeding at Work Law.  We may never have the ideal place to pump, but we at least have some rights.  Among our rights as pumping, nursing mamas:

  • A place to pump that is private
  • A place in close proximity to your work area
  • A place that is not a toilet stall or restroom

These are good things, but maybe not all of us know that this is actually a law for employers with more than 25 employees.  If you need help understanding this law or help approaching your employer, the Nursing Mother's Council of Oregon is out there with a workplace lactation support program.  You can even buy or rent pumps through them.

It is not easy, mamas.  I say this as I am washing out all my pump parts, sterilizing valves and nozzles, checking twice that my pump tubes are in the proper place (as I have once left home without them).  My wee one is 16 months and tiny, so I am still making him breastmilk while I am away at work.  Our workplaces need to help us and support us in this task; the pumping is the hard part!

Have you had a hard time trying to navigate your workplace to find the right place, space, and time to pump?  Please share.  It helps to know we aren't alone.

Comments

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I'm grateful that my employer provides a place and pays for the time I take to pump. The place is/was the quiet room. At one point, there were four nursing mamas using the room - it was is serious use four hours every day! We coordinated our schedules to make sure I wasn't in there when others were. and the mama with the oldest kiddo was kind enough to be more flexible when the new mamas (with higher production) came back to work after FMLA. As I said, I am grateful. And I know how incredibly lucky I am.

I really wish the law could be extended to other work environments. So many employees work for companies that would not meet the 25 threshold so these new mamas would not be covered.

My employer provided a room for pumping and ensured that only nursing women were able to book this room (it was a setting in outlook that only allowed certain people to schedule appointments for this particular conference room). This solution worked well and I was grateful for not having to schedule around other people's meetings. Even with this solution, I think being a pumping mom and having only male bosses is stressful and awkward enough.

I wish the law were more detailed. My workplace provides a place to pump that (barely) meets the letter of the law, but definitely not the spirit. It's in the lobby of a busy rest room, curtained off, so you never know who is going to peek their heads in wondering "what's that noise?" It's a good ten minutes walk from most people who work here. The chairs in there are not comfortable for sitting, let alone pumping. One entire wall is covered with mirrors, so you feel doubly exposed. Needless to say, all the people "in charge" of facilities at my workplace are men. They really, really don't get it. I have always felt that if men had to hook their private areas up to a pump 3-4 times a day to make food for their children, then pumping rooms would be outfitted with a flat screen, extended cable, and sports pages all around.

The problem is, I would like to advocate for a better space for others who are now pumping, but I am not sure how to bring it up, especially in these tough financial times. Perhaps the Surgeon General's Call to Action is a good place for me to start.

If anyone needs support or wants us to advocate anonymously with an employer please contact marion@nursingmotherscounsel.org
We are here to help!

Great article!

Thanks for the great article!

As of March 2010, uMamas in Oregon have also had protection from a Wage and Hour federal law, Reasonable Breaks for Nursing Mothers. This came about thanks to Senator Jeff Merkley, who proposed and passed this protection as an amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka health care reform).

The state and federal laws apply differently, but note: federal law applies to ALL employers, regardless of size, and OR law applies to all employees, regardless of how they are paid. (Glad you live in Oregon?)

ADVOCACY OPPORTUNITY THROUGH 2-22-2011:
The US Department of Labor has oversight of this new federal law, and they are currently requesting public comment about their initial Guidance.
Read the Guidance (or summary of info they're collecting) at: http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/Workplace/WorkplaceSupport/DOLRequestforInformation/tabid/191/Default.aspx

PLEASE understand this all goes on the public record; so be brief, professional and mindful that anyone (including your employer) can read it.

ALSO please make sure to say "thank you -- this legislation is really important for my family" because, while it may not be perfect and all-inclusive legislation yet, it's a lot better than nothing. And nothing is exactly what we'll return to if health care reform laws are repealed.

Thanks for doing your part -- for your babies, your families, and the community we're building together.

I work for the Oregon Public Health Division, home of WIC, Women's Health, and Chronic Disease Prevention. We have a lactation room... that is behind a key-card access only door in our wellness center (gym). If you don't have a gym membership, a sign posted on the door directs you to find janitorial staff to let you in, or you can ask the WIC receptionist to let you in. Fortunately, I have a membership, so I don't have to take the extra few minutes to find someone to grant me access. The room itself has no sign-up sheet, so there is no way to reserve a time. The back-up plan is to use the sick room next door, complete with old mattress and wheel chair. So far, at least one of the rooms has been open when I've needed to pump. The lactation room has two old easy chairs that face each other, so you can put your pump on one chair while sitting in the other. The chairs are deep, so there's no back support. Somebody donated a nursing stool, so there's some foot support. The chairs are milk-splattered, as is the old filing cabinet that is scattered with magazines, books, and pamphlets from a few years back. After pumping, you can go use the sink in the locker room to rinse your equipment. Back in your office, you can use the microwave to sterilize your equipment and then store your milk in the fridge. I dream of a room with a sign-up sheet, supportive chair, side-table, cleaning wipes, and a sink and fridge. Think how time-effective that would be! I'm going to talk to the WIC program to try to find out who, if anybody, has oversight of the room, and leave notes for the other moms to try to improve the room's conditions.

I sometimes work in Seattle, for the City of Seattle. The municipal building there is 50+ stories, and their pumping room is somewhere around floor 32. For those working on upper floors, it means taking one elevator to the middle floor, then another elevator to the 32nd floor (the upper & lower floors are serviced by different elevators). It is a hassle to get to, so I have simply opted to pump in the restroom on the floor where I work.

The pumping room, however, is great. It is key-card access only for pumping moms who request access. There are three separate cubicles, each with a chair, phone, and table. There is a sink with a drying rack next to it. There are two small refrigerators. The room is really well-equipped.

It is key to have a pumping facility convenient to an employee's work place. The trek to an appropriate place can be a real hassle, adding a good 10-15 minutes onto this whole ordeal. It can disrupt the mama's work flow, which is added disincentive to continue pumping.

In addition to a place, your workplace is required to provide time as well. Either two 15 minute breaks or one 30 minute break. The breaks can be, but do not have to be, you're regularly scheduled breaks (if that works for you). Your employer can choose to not pay you for addtional breaks, but is still required by federal law to make them available. Also, just know the law only is for women with babies that are younger than 18 months. This seems ridiculous as 2 years is a standard for maximum health benefits! Nonetheless, it's good to know your rights!

Marcy, actually I think that 18 months is enough. Even if you choose to breastfeed well past the second birthday, at some point you are only breastfeeding once or twice a day when you are home. There really is no need to pump at work any more. Correct me if I am wrong, but while 2 year old benefits from breast milk, it should only be a relatively small part of his/her food intake.

Actually, the Oregon law states:
Employers shall:
1. Provide unpaid rest periods for milk expression for women with children up to 18 months of age or younger.
2. Provide at least one 30 minute break per four hours work.

So, for an 8 hour day, you would be allowed one hour of pumping time, which could be split up.

I agree, it seems really over the top to be pumping at work for an 18+ month toddler. To each her own, but you might as well just feed from the breast during your time at home with your child at that point.

I work for the state, and my boses have been very supportive of pumping. I have access to a couple of rooms in our office that are more than adequate, and I am able to work on my laptop while I pump, so I don't have to take unpaid breaks - this has made it possible for me to stay sane...take a coffee break when needed, etc - I don't have to take my scheduled breaks for pumping, so I can still take a real break from the office when I need. I can't say enough how much I have appreciated their support.

I think it's important not to be judgemental about when other mamas decide to end their breastfeeding or pumping experience, mamas. Let's remember to be inclusive and empathetic - when your nursing 20 month old gets sick, and you spend three of four days home nursing a lot, you may feel the need to pump for a few days after to deal with hightened supply. Not my experience, but that of another very dedicated nursing mama.

I don't think there is a need for an age cap on pumping - not many people will need to pump after 18 months, but putting a time limit on it implies that there is a time limit to nursing - or that there is a value-based time limit on nursing, and that creates a stigma for extended nursers.

I also happen to know a few mamas who worked for companies with very few employees who were unable to be successful at pumping because their employers did not, and were not required to, provide a space under the conditions of the Oregon law. I don't understand why small companies are exempt - in a small place, it can't be that difficult or expensive to set up a small private space.

Hi B's mom,

I also work for OPHD, and I would love to join your campaign to improve the space! I think a few of my co-workers would also be interested. Send me an e-mail so we can connect about this: mgreenupstream(at)gmail(dot)com.

i will support your campaign and i think the other co-workers are interested to this also...

This is exactly what I've been searching for. Thanks!

Good information, thank you for sharing

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