What's one of the biggest hurdles mothers face when breastfeeding? Returning to work.
It's not just in the United States. Women around the world struggle to combine breastfeeding and work. In fact, this World Breastfeeding Week's theme is Breastfeeding and Work: Let's Make It Work! So this month, we're focusing on ways to help breastfeeding moms continue nursing after they go back to work.
Having been a nursing mom in the workplace, I know how hard it can be — and I probably had it easier than most. Working in an office, I had a private place to pump. My employer was supportive and gave me the time I needed. Unfortunately, not all women, especially hourly workers, can say the same.
Having regular breaks to pump or breastfeed your baby is a basic need for nursing mothers who work away from their infant. You need to breastfeed your baby or pump every few hours to maintain your milk supply. Working at a restaurant, retail store, factory, or other hourly wage job, it may be more challenging to create a private place or a schedule that allows you to take a break to pump. But there's good news: There are easy, low-cost ways to make it work!
If you're pregnant or recently gave birth and you want to continue breastfeeding after you go back to work, here are five things that will make it easier.
- Know the law is on your side. You may know that the Affordable Care Act provides greater access to health coverage, but it also includes provisions around breastfeeding. The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires most employers of hourly workers to provide basic breastfeeding accommodations like time to pump and a functional, private space other than a bathroom. Many states also have laws that protect your right to pump, or "express milk," while at work. Check with your human resources department for more information and show them the rules at the Department of Labor's website.
- Plan ahead. If you think you will need to pump at work, talk to your supervisor sooner rather than later. If possible, make a plan together before you go on maternity leave, so that things will be set up when you return. But if you're already back at work, talk with your employer.
- Think outside of the box! Some workplaces may face more challenges than others when carving out adequate time and space for moms to pump. Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employer Solutions can help you and your employer navigate this sometimes complicated issue. We've gathered hundreds of creative, low-cost ideas to help nursing mothers continue breastfeeding after returning to work. And there's good reason. Breastfeeding doesn't just benefit you and your baby — your employer benefits, too!
Breastfeeding helps keep babies healthy, which lowers health care costs and means you don't have to miss work for a doctor's appointment. Plus, research shows that working women whose breastfeeding goals are supported by their employers are more productive. Companies will also see lower turnover rates because women are more likely to go back to work if they know they'll have time and space to pump.
- Practice before you go back to work. It's a good idea to practice pumping at home before you return to work. (You may be able to get a breast pump at no extra cost through your health insurance plan.) Once you're back at work, you'll probably need to pump two to three times during a typical eight-hour workday, or the number of times your baby needs to feed while you're away. Be sure to properly store your milk after each pumping session in clean glass or BPA-free plastic bottles or milk storage bags. Then keep it cool in a refrigerator or a cooler with ice packs — you can even freeze it! For a detailed guide to pumping and storing your milk, check out our info on pumping and storage.
- Support nursing moms. You may not need to pump at work, but someone else in your life or workplace might. Your support can make a big difference to a nursing mom. One way you can help is by sending your friends, family, coworkers, and supervisors the link to Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employer Solutions. If you've had to pump at work in the past, talk to new moms about what worked and didn't work for you.
I hope these tips will help ease your transition back to work so that you and your baby can enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding long after your maternity leave is over.