Nursing in the Workplace
The benefits of breastfeeding for infant and maternal health are well known, but it can be challenging to pull off when moms return to work. It’s hard enough to adjust to a life with an infant. Figuring out how to pump milk can seem like one more overwhelming thing to do.
Sheridan Ross, a lactation consultant at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, encourages mothers to reach out for support to ease the transition. Women can seek advice and assistance from groups like the La Leche League and Nursing Mothers Council. Aid is available whether mothers have private insurance or not, she says. “There is always help available and it doesn’t have to cost you some something.”
Mothers should know there are laws intended to make the process as comfortable as possible. For example, employers must provide a private space (not a bathroom) for pumping and also provide breaks for the activity.
A new California law that just went into effect this year (Senate Bill 142) adds that this location must be safe, clean, free of hazardous materials and include a surface where the mother can place her pump and personal materials. It must have electricity, be near a refrigerator or cooler where milk can be stored and have a sink with running water. Employers with fewer than 50 employees can apply for an exemption if they believe offering accommodations are an undue burden.
The law also says that employers must provide nursing mothers who are employees with as many breaks as they need to adequately pump milk. However, employers only have to pay them for the 10-minute rest breaks required for every four hours of work. Employers can deny breaks if they believe it seriously disrupts operations. However, they are required to provide employees with a written explanation for the denial.
Finally, all employers must write up a policy for lactating employees and include it in the employee handbook. The policy must outline employee rights and employer duties and explain where employees may file complaints if their rights are violated.
Robbie Gonzalez-Down, executive director of the California Breastfeeding Coalition, encourages mothers to communicate openly with their employers about their desire to pump at work. “Most employers want to be supportive,” she says.
Mei Chin, a breastfeeding mom, says she has had a great experience at her job at San Francisco State University. She works as a business manager at the College of Ethnic Studies and pumps in her shared office. While the college has private lactation rooms available, she choses to use her office because it is more convenient.
She told her coworkers what to expect and created a sign that lets them know when she is pumping. She is fine with them coming into the office, but allows them to make the choice for themselves. She pumps three times a day, generally 15 minutes per session. She stores the milk for her son in the refrigerator in her office.
The toughest part of pumping, Chin says, is making sure she gets in all pf her sessions. “I’m constantly getting interrupted during the day and I might forget,” she says. To help with that problem, she schedules sessions and avoids making other commitments during those times.
She advises other nursing mothers to get the best quality pump possible, keep extra supplies such as bottles on hand, get a hands-free pumping bra and make sure to eat snacks and drink water during pumping times. She also suggests that new mothers who are returning to work start on a Wednesday rather than at the beginning of the week. This way, they can ease into their new schedule.
Kathryn Newton, a San Rafael working mom involved with the La Leche League, says moms living here are fortunate because most Bay Area employers are supportive. While it can take companies some time to figure out logistics, they rarely deny moms the chance to pump at work. “It’s great,” she says. “The more support we can have for moms to continue breastfeeding when they return to work, the better it is for family.”
Some Bay Area companies are particularly outstanding, including Genentech and Facebook, say lactation consultants.
Genentech, a biotechnology company in South San Francisco, offers mothers’ rooms with hospital-grade pumps. In addition, the company contracts with a lactation service provider that inspects the mothers’ rooms quarterly to make sure they are up to standard and provides onsite lactation workshops for expectant and new mothers. At the workshops, mothers can meet each other and learn about onsite childcare centers and other services.
Suzanne Roller, head of Campus Services at Genentech, says the company’s goal is “to provide new mothers with a smooth and supportive re-entry to work and to ensure that those who want to breastfeed have the tools to do so.” She says the mothers’ rooms are heavily used and workshops are well attended.
Facebook, based in Menlo Park, provides 175 mothers’ rooms throughout the United States. The company provides industrial-grade electric breast pumps, “which is a must to ensure mothers are able to efficiently and effectively collect their milk,” says Nneka Norville, corporate communications manager. “This saves them valuable time during the day and keeps their milk supply up,” she says.
The mothers’ rooms are stocked with pump cleaners, soap designed to dissolve breast milk, storage space for belongings, a refrigerator to store milk, Mothers Milk tea, extra breast milk storage bags, extra nursing pads, gloves, several chairs separated by curtains, a sink, counter space and a mirror. Moms also have access to soft music.
Employee benefits at Facebook include coverage of one breast pump, lactation support and access to breastmilk shipping for traveling moms through Milk Stork. Facebook also offers pumping accommodations at off-site events, support and education for breastfeeding moms and their partners at workshops.
“Long-term studies have shown that employers who facilitate mothers’ ability to comfortably pump during the workday see benefits to their business, including less absenteeism, lower turnover, improved recruitment, increased employee morale and retention,” Norville says. “Furthermore, studies have proven breast milk helps build a baby’s immune system and overall health. Mothers should not have to choose between continuing to breastfeed their babies and going to work.”
Companies that aren’t sure how best to serve nursing mothers can seek help from lactation service businesses such as DayOne Baby. The San Francisco-based business, which has been in operation for more than 20 years, works with human resource professionals to set up space. They can help design a room or bring in a portable nursing room, rent pumps and offer other services. They also provide care packages for moms, which include disposable nursing pads, storage bags and snacks. “They include anything that you think a parent might not remember,” says Sandra Negrete, an account manager.
The goal of DayOne Baby is to help companies think about how best to serve nursing mothers. “Our job is to advocate to normalize breastfeeding and to advocate for the parents,” she says.
Mothers are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce in the United States, according to a press release by Senate Bill 142’s sponsors Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.
“Women with adequate break time and private space are more than two times as likely to be breastfeeding exclusively at six months as women without lactation accommodations,” the press release says. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding for at least the next six months.
The new law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights to pump at work. It also imposes a fine of $100 each day that an employee is denied reasonable break time or adequate space to pump breast milk.
Mei Chin, the San Francisco nursing mother, says pumping at work is worth the effort to feed her 7-month-old son. No one has ever given her any problem about it but if some did, she wouldn’t care. “I’m making sure my child is fed properly.”
Resources for Breastfeeding at Work