Break Time for Nursing Mothers in the Workplace


I happen know a lot about workplace laws which is kind of ironic because I myself don’t work in a workplace but anyway, ya’ll might like to know for yourself, for your friends, or for your wives that working, breastfeeding mothers have more rights these days than they had in the past.

Hopefully these laws will help keep working women out of the cold and lonely bathroom, expressing their breast milk standing up at the counter, inhaling any number of unpleasant smells. I mean, maybe some women can ignore it, but I think it’s rather demeaning and awfully suggestive of the little value we place on motherhood.

Law Regarding Milk Expression

One of the provisions of President Obama’s Health Care Reform amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to legally entitle nursing mothers to break time at work for the expression of breast milk.

The amended act does not state how many breaks are to be given but specifies any “reasonable break time.” The breaks need not be paid by the employer but, by law, must be available and provided in a clean, private room without a toilet.

Here is the full law as outlined by the Department of Labor.

Breastfeeding women can be very sensitive to their surroundings. In fact, it’s kind of biological. Breastfeeding is a warm and loving activity. A bathroom (unless it’s a damn nice one) is not an ideal place to get the oxytocin flowing. And on top of that, the use of a pump is already unemotional, cold, and sterile. A warm cozy chair and a 20 minute break might be enough to help a mother provide breast milk for her baby longer term.

Why Working, Breastfeeding Moms Must Pump

Breastfeeding working mothers have a huge challenge to keep their milk flowing. Without the little one around to nurse on demand the milk can dry up pretty fast. A lot of business owners and bosses (who are mostly male) don’t understand the logistics here so allow me to illuminate. Pass this on to bosses everywhere!

  • A mother’s milk builds up while she’s away from her baby. In the absence the buildup of milk can become very uncomfortable and even painful. It needs to be expelled.
  • If milk is not expressed at somewhat regular intervals throughout each and every day, a woman will lose her ability to breastfeed her baby. Breast pumps can substitute and “trick” the body into believing that the baby is still nursing all day.
  • Breastfeeding, in conjunction with a healthy diet, helps babies become exceptionally strong and healthy. A breastfed baby’s immune system is more robust than a formula fed baby so they generally require fewer doctor visits, meaning fewer sick days for mom!
  • Breastfeeding has been proven to increase IQ, meaning a better workforce for the future!
  • Babies who are breastfed are typically happier and, consequently, so are their mothers. This might make for a more peaceful office.
  • Breastfeeding mothers often don’t get enough sleep. A midday break may be just the energizer that she needs to do her best at work.

I would love to hear other women’s experience with this. I didn’t work for the first two years of my baby’s life so it wasn’t an issue for me, but I did pump on occasion and I can’t say that I found it incredibly enjoyable. I would think it would be difficult to maintain the milk beyond say a few weeks to a few months expressing milk in a bathroom. What do you think?

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  1. My wife has been nursing our second coming up to 10.5 months now, she wants to make it to a full year. She lucked out in working for a small company, owned by a man, that has a dedicated room for nursing moms. About 70% of the employees are women too, and 70% of the leaders are men. There seems to be a constant use for the room, as soon as one mom is past nursing another is beginning. :)

  2. With both my children I worked full time and pumped while at work, until they were well over a year old. Breastmilk was the only beverage offered for DD until 15 months and DS until 14 months.

    When my DD was born, truthfully, I never asked – I just did it. I decided that the locking conference room with no window was where it was gong to happen and while several questioned me over the course of it, no one ever criticized. Unfortunately I got layed-off from that job and when DS came along, I had to “negotiate” use of the partner’s private (read: much cleaner and more private) washroom. There was a toilet, but it was a single stall type with a seperate seating area outside the stall. Not ideal, but better than the common washroom. But I took heat for every time I stood up from my desk at that place. It was never hostile, but there were definitley opnions left unsaid there.

  3. I’m expecting in a couple months and i’m pretty happy i have my own office. I will still need to rig up a curtain over the window in the door and get some kind of sign or something to let people know to stay out but still, nice and private and i can keep working whilst pumping (maybe).

    • Besides actually having your baby present, that’s just about ideal. :)

  4. My husband’s office has a mother’s room on every floor. Although never seen anyone go in the one on his floor though. Still grateful that’s it provided and hopefully women are using them

  5. 10 years ago, I worked the first year of my first child’s life. I was a temp employee, and didn’t have nearly the same rights as others in the company where I worked (very long bitter backstory behind this). I did data entry for an HMO’s applications. I had to pump in my cube or the (very dirty & disgusting with no chair & only 1 outlet) bathroom. I fortunately had some degree of privacy in my cube, though it was disconcerting to pump whilst male coworkers came up to ask questions (only a few, and thankfully most of them were gay). I so wish there had been some sort of protection for me back then. I did it because I knew it was best for my baby, and I didn’t mind pumping, just minded the setting.

  6. When my daughter was 6 weeks old, I had to go back to work. I am a nurse, and at the time I was working 12 hour night shifts, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday so I could be at home during the week with my children. I would pump once a shift, probably around midnight, meaning I had not nursed since about 5:30 that evening. I probably got about 8 to 12 ounces when I pumped.
    I worried that going back to work so early would hurt my milk supply, but my daughter ended up nursing till she was almost two. I worked in NICU, so we had a breastfeeding pump room on sight with very comfy chairs, and a great breast pump. My co-workers are mostly women, who encourage breastfeeding, so it was easy for me. Still, it takes a lot of time to pump, and I usually incorporated it into my breaktime out of respect for my co-workers. I work with a lot of young girls having their first babies, and I always am respectful of their time to go pump. But, it is difficult being stuck in a room with 6 babies (sick) for extended lengths of time every 3 or 4 hours. We don’t always have the man-power to let someone sit in that room with me, while my co-worker is away pumping. So most girls average one to two pumpings in a 12 hour shift (which with driving is about a 14 hour day). There are herbs women can take to help with their milk supply if it starts to dwindle. I would encourage any breastfeeding mom who has returned to work, who is experiencing problems with milk supply to contact a lactation consultant, or La Leche League. Also, the best time for our bodies to produce milk is at night. So, if you happen to have a good baby that sleeps through the night early on, you may want to consider getting up once during the night to pump to increase that supply.

    • Respect for the co-workers is something I’ve wondered about with the practicality of this law. I mean, it’s great that you can go pump, but if everybody hates you for it, it’s still not a great option.

  7. I was lucky. I taught preK and went back to work when my son was 6 weeks old. My director made sure someone braked me twice a day at 10 and 1 every single day. There was no office or empty room I could use, so I had to use the teacher resource/copy room. I put a sign on the door and sat on the floor and pumped. They did not make me clock out during it, either.

    With my daughter who is now 15 months old, I never have to pump. I get to stay at home. :) And we’re still nursing strong.

  8. I am taking full advantage of the new law. My supervisor was not all to keen on me getting pregnant in the first place (a whole other issue). He is still my supervisor but I work for another project and pump twice a day. I have an empty office and many of my co-workers know that I do it. I try to be as flexible as possible but I have left meetings to pump if they go to long. I personally hate pumping but I know it is what is best in the long run. I am lucky enough that I get feed my son at lunch time.

    At my second job (2x a week 5- 8:30) I don’t pump at all. I stop and feed him on my way to that job and pump when I get home. I probably could pump but it isn’t worth the hassle.

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