8 Things You Need to Know About Pumping at Work

Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from the MomsRising blog. The original post date was August 12, 2015. Read the original post.

An employee entering a room for breastfeeding.Location, location, location. It's one of the biggest concerns for nursing moms who plan to pump at work.

The good news is that whether you work in a retail store, a restaurant, or an airplane hangar, there are ways of making space for you to pump. In some cases, it just requires a bit of creativity!

Thanks to the "Break Time for Nursing Mothers" law, most employers of hourly workers are required to provide nursing moms with basic breastfeeding accommodations, such as a functional, private space to pump and time off to do it. However, by law, the space can't be a bathroom!

Whether you're pregnant or recently gave birth and you want to continue breastfeeding after returning to work, we have the information you need. Check out these commonly asked questions (and answers) about the law and your rights, reasons why breastfeeding is good for everyone — including your employer — and advice on how to talk to your boss about breastfeeding.

Am I covered by the "Break Time for Nursing Mothers" law?

The law applies to most hourly wage-earning and some salaried employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Even if you're not covered by the federal law, you may be covered by a state law. Have questions? Call the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division at 866-487-9243 and ask for the Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor.

Are my breaks paid or unpaid?

The law does not require pumping breaks to be paid. However, if your employer already offers paid breaks you may use those breaks to pump your milk. Any extra time you use may not be paid by your employer.

How often can I take a break to pump? 

The law requires employers to provide time and space "each time such employee has need to express the milk." If the space is not available when you need it, your employer is not meeting the requirements of the law. If you're worried you won't be able to take enough break time to pump, check out these creative time and space solutions

What kind of space does my employer need to provide?

The law requires employers to provide a useable place that's not a bathroom. It must be completely private so that no one can see inside or enter the space while it's being used.

Employers are not required to create a permanent dedicated space for breastfeeding employees. In many workplaces, there is no unused space. In that case, the employer could instead give you access to a space normally used for other things, like a manager's office or storage area.

The Business Case for Breastfeeding (PDF, 2.15 MB) recommends that at a minimum, employers provide a safe and private space with a chair and a small table or shelf to set the breast pump on. An especially useful space could include an electrical outlet, a door that can be locked from the inside, a sink, and/or a refrigerator located near the pumping space. Though not required, these additions can help shorten your break time because you will not need to travel to another area to wash your hands, clean your pump parts, and store your milk.

I'm worried that we just don't have the space in my workplace. What are some creative space solutions?

Employers and employees in every industry have found creative solutions to make breastfeeding possible. Here are some creative space solutions:

  • Unused areas like a storage closet, empty office, or meeting room
  • Manager's office
  • Areas that can be partitioned or blocked by a curtain
  • Company or personal vehicle with window coverings
  • Pop-up tents or temporary walls
  • Working from home

What about the equipment I'll need?

In most cases, employees are expected to provide their own pump, storage containers, and cleaning supplies. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health plans are required to cover the cost of a breast pump. If you choose to buy your own breastfeeding supplies, they are tax deductible (PDF, 11.3 KB).

Why should my employer support me pumping at work? 

Many employers may not realize that breastfeeding can save money. Share these benefits with your employer:

  • Breastfeeding employees miss work less frequently because breastfed infants are healthier.
  • Breastfeeding lowers health care costs.
  • Breastfeeding support helps employers keep their best employees so that less money is spent hiring and training new employees.
  • Breastfeeding employees who are supported in the workplace report higher productivity and loyalty.

Learn more about how employers benefit from workplace breastfeeding support programs.

How can I talk to my employer about my needs?

Most employers are happy to provide the support you need, as long as they know what your needs are and how important it is for you to have their support. If your company doesn't have a breastfeeding support program, it could be that nobody has asked for one. Check out these tips for talking to your employer:

  • Make the case. Breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for you and your baby.
  • Your supervisor may not know what you need to continue breastfeeding. Simply explain your basic needs for privacy and flexible breaks to express milk.
  • Show how meeting your breastfeeding needs will benefit the company using the examples we provided above.
  • Explain that you won't take breaks that are longer than necessary.
  • Be prepared! Consider possible concerns your supervisor might have.
  • Be a team member. Be sensitive to the issues that are important to your company and show how supporting your efforts to breastfeed can help both of you accomplish your goals.
  • Be sure to show your appreciation for your supervisor's efforts to support your breastfeeding.

Remember, you don't have to stop breastfeeding because you're returning to work. Our website, Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employer Solutions has creative, low-cost ideas to help all kinds of businesses help their nursing employees meet their breastfeeding goals. The law is on your side!