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Are Breastfeeding Moms Really Supported at Work?

Are Breastfeeding Moms Really Supported at Work?

Combining the professional fulfillment of returning to work with the personal satisfaction of continuing to breastfeed is not a simple task.

Browsing the comments left by mothers posting in the Working and Breastfeeding community quickly highlights the dilemma of finding time to express milk during work hours.

“My fellow employees and boss were not sympathetic to my needs,” posts Jessica P., working 12-hour graveyard shifts.


I work nine hours a day and can’t pump during my shift because I work in an office full of men,” writes Stephanie T.

And as new mom and food service worker Brittaney L. reports, “The times that I’ll need to pump will be right in the middle of our rushes so I can’t leave my position to go pump,” says she’s worried her milk supply will diminish if she can only pump a couple times a day.

The challenge of maintaining productivity at work while keeping the milk supply flowing can be daunting. Less than a year ago, the federal government took notice.

As of March 23, 2010, federal law began protecting the rights of nursing mothers to express milk during the workday without discrimination. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, workplaces with 50-plus employees must allow reasonable unpaid break time for an employee to express milk for up to one year after the child’s birth. A suitable location within the workplace – not a bathroom – was also required by this legislation.

The trouble is this: lots of nursing moms are employed in situations with fewer than 49 other co-workers. According to statistics from the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 19.6 million Americans are employed at workplaces with 20 or fewer employees. Remove the male half of that and there are still nearly 10 million women in workplaces that are not required to give unpaid breaks for expressing breast milk.

While the law does extend anti-discrimination coverage for nursing mothers at businesses with less than 50 employees, it also provides the business an out if it can prove that complying with the law provides an undue economic hardship. As of this writing, no court challenges have occurred.

The good news is that the drafting of official policies for federal employees is in the works. Shortly before last Christmas, President Barack Obama directed the Office of Personnel Management to publish new workplace accommodation guidelines for government employees.

Several federal agencies already have breastfeeding support policies in place. The National Security Agency took a progressive lead in the late 1980s, establishing an in-house policy that provides nursing mothers break time to express milk. The Government Accountability Office and the departments of Labor, State and Transportation quickly followed suit. In 2007, nursing rooms were established in the nation’s oldest congressional office building – the Cannon House Office Building, built in 1908 – for use by staffers of members of the House of Representatives.

In spite of these supportive measures for government workers, the private sector picture isn’t quite as clear. And an unofficial Circle of Moms poll bears this out: When asked if their workplace is supportive of nursing mothers, 33 percent indicated their workplace is supportive in policy only; not in practice. Another 8 percent reported that their employer has made expressing milk during working hours difficult. Another unofficial poll asked nursing mothers if their workplace has a formal policy that supports breastfeeding mothers. Only 27 percent indicated their workplace has a comprehensive policy, whereas 45 percent reported no such policy existed.

Comments by moms shows the biggest problem isn’t necessarily having the right to express milk while at work, but actually have the privacy to do so.

Sarah O. was expressing in a private room with a locked door and a sign posted on the outside when a male co-worker unlocked the door to get supplies, thinking the sign was just a joke. She was “mortified,” her flow stopped, and she burst into tears and ended up leaving work early, losing hours.

And it isn’t just hapless male colleagues that are space invaders. For Michelle C.R., it was an older female co-worker with a poor sense of boundaries who repeatedly interrupted her to ask questions about work, while she was pumping. (Michelle finally had to ask for her privacy to be respected.)

That’s something she shouldn’t have to do under the new federal mandate requiring the nursing room be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.”

As comments from posting moms show, the workplace still has some ground to cover in fully implementing the new federal mandates.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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