We crowdsource a wide variety of benefits at Fairygodboss and while many employee benefits are discretionary, e.g. healthcare, paid parental leave and work flexibility, one thing that isn’t a voluntary benefit is the legal requirement that employers must follow if a breastfeeding mother returns to work and decides to pump breastmilk.
Not all moms choose to breastfeed but many do. And mothers who return from maternity leave and also try to follow the breast-feeding recommendations put forth by the American Pediatric Association to nurse their babies for six months are put in a tough spot. Since fewer than 1% of U.S. companies offer six months of maternity leave, many of these women must pump during their workdays. According to a recent Fairygodboss survey, almost 60% of working moms said they have pumped at work.
Under federal law (specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act) an employer with at least 50 employees must provide women a “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” These employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” Individual state laws may provide even greater protections than these federal guidelines which set the minimum standards.
Unfortunately, despite the laws in place, approximately half of the women we surveyed (47%) reported in our survey that they felt their employers’ lactation facilities were inadequate. Moreover, a quarter said that their managers or employers didn’t accommodate the scheduling breaks they needed to take in order to pump breast milk. In other words, between 25% to 50% of women that we surveyed felt they had to fight uphill battles in order to continue to breastfeed their babies.
Women report cringe-worthy tales of pumping in “filthy” janitor’s closets or about how — in certain industries and workplaces where there simply aren’t a lot of women around (and even fewer who have had children) — the facilities can be “afterthoughts” scrambled together by putting a screen in a conference room.
Other women share tales of losing their milk supplies prematurely because of their inability to pump frequently (or long) enough at work. This may be due to scarce facilities being far away from their desks in large office complexes, or because they are constantly interrupted by others in bathrooms or multi-purpose areas where they pumped. For most women, even the ones who feel they had an overall positive experience, the whole situation can simply be awkward and stressful.
As one woman explained to us: “My coworkers were very quick to clear out an old office to flip it into a pumping room for me and another returning mother. They even set up the room with a sink for us to use. My coworkers are great about accommodating my pump breaks. If we have meetings, they try to schedule them around my breaks. Negatives: Pumping seems to be a word many of my male colleagues feel uncomfortable with. They have given me looks that say ‘Alright, let’s not go there,’ have seemed embarrassed and one has even said out loud ‘TMI’ whenever I let them know I need to pump.”
Author and parental leave advocate Jessica Shortall describes similar challenges in her book, Work, Pump and Repeat and provides tips and tactics for what women facing these issues.
In the scheme of things, for most working moms, pumping at work is only an issue only for a limited period of time, but it is a particularly sensitive one at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives. New mothers tend to be tired and anxious about both their families and careers, so it is a time when employer efforts to support female employers with their choice to breastfeed can make a huge impact . Long after they have babies, employees share either grateful tales (or horror stories). They remember how important it is to have a real choice when it comes to deciding how long to breastfeed their babies.
For employers who are wondering what they can do, certain companies have upgraded the quantity and quality of their lactation rooms. Other companies, like Accenture, offer their employees the ability to ship breast milk if they must travel for work, and others work with milk-shipping service providers like Milk Stork. They may seem like small things, but these actions can make a big difference to new moms in the workplace and won’t soon be forgotten by grateful employees.
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