In our frequent interviews with working, pumping mamas, we hear no shortage of sad tales about how short many employers fall in offering working moms an appropriate place to pump. But, still, we're hopeful. We don't think the decision to turn the server closet into a pump room is necessarily made with malicious intent. Many well-meaning employers simply don’t know the ins-and-outs of what working, pumping women need — and why.
So, here you go: our 8-step primer for supporting breastfeeding colleagues at work. Share it with your managers, HR folks, and other sympathetic co-workers to build a better collective understanding of what goes on behind that pump room door.
Understand Why She Needs To Pump
1. Doctors’ orders! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months followed by breast milk in combination with appropriate solid foods until a baby is at least 12 months. Meanwhile, the average U.S. maternity leave hovers around 10 weeks. Breast pumps enable women to continue providing milk for their babies when they head back to work.
2. Milk supply must equal baby’s demand. Breastfeeding is about matching the mom’s milk output with the baby’s appetite, which means a mom needs to pump as many ounces as her baby eats while they’re separated, otherwise her body will stop making the right amount of milk. Babies eat approximately every 2–5 hours. And, keep in mind, that the total time away from her baby includes her commute time, so some moms need to head straight to the pump room after arriving in the morning.
Prepare the Office
3. Provide a space for pumping; it’s the law. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that employers provide reasonable break time for employees as well as a space, other than a toilet stall, that is shielded from view of other workers. These rules apply to all non-exempt employees working at companies with 50 or more employees but note that some states have additional regulations for employees; you can look up what’s required in your jurisdiction here.
4. A well-stocked mothers room saves time. Make sure to have a comfortable chair, table, outlet, refrigerator, lock on the door, blinds on the windows, mirror, and, ideally, a sink. If multiple women may need to use the space then invest in room dividers, office cubes, or curtains to allow for several private spaces within the lactation room. Setting up for efficiency and comfort will save time and maximize productivity for everyone.
5. Empathize and accommodate. Pumping does not have to interrupt a working mom’s professional obligations, but it can be logistically challenging, especially when schedules and locations change. Overtime hours, travel, offsite meetings, happy hours, and other changes to routines are completely possible but they require accommodations that might be in the form of regularly scheduled breaks, calling ahead to the venue to ensure there’s a private and clean pumping space, access to a fridge, etc.
Support Your Colleague
6. Women typically will need to pump 2–4 times a day and for approximately 20–40 minutes each session. Women’s pump session durations can differ wildly and the set-up in the lactation room directly correlates to the amount of time required away from her desk.
7. There’s not a lot of flexibility in a woman’s pumping schedule. Requesting that she stay in a meeting or pausing to “ask one more quick question” while she’s en route to the pumping room can actually cause severe discomfort (called engorgement), a decrease in supply if she misses pumping sessions regularly, or leaking (yes, really). Avoid getting in the way of a mom on a pumping mission.
8. Many women can still work when pumping. Especially if you invest in setting up the lactation room for comfort and productivity, pumping sessions can actually be great pockets of quiet time to tackle one’s inbox or to focus on high priority items. Note, however, that stress can affect some women’s milk supply. In fact, some moms have to make a concerted effort to relax in order for their body to release milk, which might include watching videos of her baby or meditating. It’s reasonable to expect that work-related productive time is not all lost when your pumping colleague heads off to the mother’s room… but moms’ ability to multi-task while pumping may vary.
When in doubt, ask what she needs. Show your support of her decisions to be a breastfeeding, working mom.
She’s worth the investment.