When new parents return to work after parental leave, one of their main concerns may be the challenge of pumping milk at work. Between finding time and space to pump, making sure to pack a breast pump, and figuring out where and how to store breast milk, pumping can feel like an overwhelming part of returning to work. This contributes to 60% of parents not breastfeeding for as long as they intend to.

By providing a comfortable, private lactation space and communicating policies to employees, employers can ease the transition back to the office and help remove any stigma. 

U.S. federal law also requires employers to provide lactating parents with time and a private space to pump milk. The current law requires this accommodation for parents up to one year after the child's birth. This applies each time the employee needs to pump milk—which usually adds up to about one hour in an eight-hour workday.

Here's how you can support your employees during this critical time of change through breastfeeding and beyond.

What are the benefits of providing pumping breaks at work?

Companies that provide family-friendly policies and strive to give employees a better work-life balance see higher productivity, healthier employees, and lower turnover. Informing employees about the company's pumping break policy before they go out on maternity leave helps them feel valued and supported when they return.

Here's how providing pumping breaks benefits employers—in addition to complying with the law.

Supporting new parents can help you retain good employees

Nearly seven in 10 women of childbearing age are in the workforce, while working mothers make up almost three quarters of female employees. There is a clear need to support new and current parents to retain top talent and improve gender diversity.

Organizations who provide space and time for nursing mothers to pump (among other modern maternity benefits) demonstrate empathy and flexibility, two key values that employees hold in high regard.

If not supported, breastfeeding employees can be faced with the difficult decision to reduce their working hours, or leave their role completely (which 43% of mothers do after maternity leave). And with replacing an employee costing up to four times the position's salary, keeping good talent benefits the company's bottom line too.

Providing support a breastfeeding employee is temporary. But when they receive this care, employees are more productive and loyal to the company.

Providing the time and space to pump can reduce sick time and reduce healthcare costs

Low breastfeeding rates equate to $3 billion in annual U.S. maternal and infant medical costs, with only one in four infants in the U.S. being exclusively breastfed through the first six months. With this in mind, employers have a responsibility to empower employees to breastfeed in the workplace.

Breastfed babies get sick less often, which saves on the cost (and time) of pediatrician visits. When breastfed babies do get sick, they need fewer medications and are less likely to be hospitalized than formula-fed babies. The more your organization supports breastfeeding employees, the less likely they may be to take sick leave or unpaid leave to care for their child and attend medical appointments.

Longer duration and intensity of breastfeeding is also associated with fewer ear, sinus, and throat infections. The protection appears to last until the child is school age, research shows

Employer support helps reduce employee stress

Women frequently cite returning to work as a top reason for stopping breastfeeding. The pressure mounts when they feel judged at work or the unexpected happens, like the baby formula shortage in 2022.

With their employer's support, women are more likely to continue pumping milk for their babies, which as outlined above has multiple benefits for both employees and the workplace.

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Pumping at work laws

Federal law has changed over the last few years to extend workplace protections to further support nursing mothers. Here are the latest legislations.

The Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lays out what an employer must provide to nursing parents who need to breastfeed at work. These requirements specifically protect employees paid on an hourly basis.

The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act

In 2022, the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers law was expanded to support a further nine million employees of childbearing age, regardless of gender and role, closing a coverage gap that left one in four women without federal protection.

The new law, Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act or “PUMP” for Nursing Mothers Act became enforceable as of April 28, 2023, requiring all employers of any size to provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers nationwide.

The PUMP Act introduced a number of important changes including:

  • Extending the time a parent would qualify for protected pumping breaks from one year to two years.
  • Extending protected pumping time and space to salaried employees including teachers, farmworkers, registered nurses and many others.
  • Allowing more protection for legal recourse should the employee's rights be violated, giving employers 10 days to come into compliance with the law, if they are notified they are not.
  • Stipulating that if an employee is not completely relieved from work duties during a pumping break, this time is counted as time worked.

Despite improvements, some workers are still excluded. The PUMP Act has not yet offered protection to airline employees working on flights, where a private room wouldn't be available and completely relieving an employee of their duties wouldn't be possible.

Updated FLSA break time requirements

Under both the FLSA and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, federal law requires employers to:

  • Provide reasonable break time for breastfeeding mothers to pump milk for their child for up to a year after the child's birth. The length and frequency of the break needs will vary and the employer can not dictate when pumping breaks must be-if timings are agreed, the employee can change these as required. Expect your employee to pump every two to three hours.
  • Completely relieve employees of their work duties during their pumping break time, though some employees will choose to continue working during this time. For hourly employees, the breaks do not need to be paid unless the employee is working while pumping, in which case paid breaks should be implemented.
  • Provide a private space to pump where the employee won't be interrupted or in view of colleagues or the public. The space doesn't have to be exclusively for pumping, but it must be available when the employee needs it. Private space cannot be a bathroom as it is not a sanitary place to prepare food. Employees must also be able to signpost when the space is in use either with a notice or a locked door.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees can apply for an exemption to these rules if providing pumping breaks would be an 'undue hardship'. This could be due to the cost involved or the nature of the employee's work however this is an extremely rare situation.

States may have different laws

The Fair Labor Standards Act states the minimum federal break time and space that employers in the United States must allow their employees who are breastfeeding to pump breast milk. But 30 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico have their own laws about pumping in the workplace.

New York, for example, requires pumping breaks for up to three years for all employees, regardless of the size of the company. Employers must also notify employees of their right to pump at work. For specifics, check your state's Department of Labor website.

What is considered “reasonable break time” for nursing moms?

The frequency and duration of pumping sessions varies from person to person. New parents will typically pump two to three times in an eight-hour work day, with each session lasting around 20 to 30 minutes. A parent's pumping needs will decrease as the child starts eating solid foods.

Employers can help by:

  • Providing a comfortable chair and quiet space. Milk expression is usually smoother when the parent isn't stressed. The space should include an outlet for the breast pump, a table to set supplies on, and a sink nearby for cleanup. A designated refrigerator for milk storage is nice, but space in a shared refrigerator is also appropriate.
  • Encouraging new parents to discuss their needs. Some employees might feel uncomfortable asking for support or accommodations for milk expression breaks. Supervisors can provide reassurance by discussing the policy, explaining how the employee's work will be covered while they are on break, or encouraging the employee to block their calendar for pumping breaks. 
  • Reminding employees of the policy for pumping breaks and encouraging colleagues to support one another. 

Sample pumping break / lactation break policy

Having a policy in place when an employee goes out on maternity leave can help make the return-to-work smoother. Here's an example of a lactation break policy to share with all employees:

We support our employees and the health of their families. As such, we encourage new parents to pump milk for their babies with the following policy.

1. Employees are encouraged to talk to their supervisors about their needs when returning to work after parental leave. Employees cannot be penalized for taking time to pump milk at work for their child.

2. Employees will be provided a private room with a lock to pump milk. The room will be sanitary and include an electrical outlet, chair, table, and nearby access to running water. Employees may use their private office area for breastfeeding or milk expression, if they prefer.

3. A refrigerator will be made available for storage of expressed breast milk. Employees should provide their own containers clearly labeled with name and date. If an employee prefers, they may use their own cooler.

4. Employees may take flexible breaks to accommodate milk expression needs. A lactating employee shall be provided a flexible schedule for breastfeeding or pumping to provide breast milk for their child. Employees must work with their supervisor to ensure coverage during this time. Employees are encouraged to block their calendars as needed.

5. If the non-working pumping break exceeds normal time allowed for lunch and breaks, the employee can come in a little earlier or leave a little later to make up the time.

6. All employees are expected to provide an atmosphere of support for their colleagues who are pumping milk for their young children.

7. The company may provide information on breastfeeding to all pregnant and lactating employees. The company may also positively promote breastfeeding in communications with staff.

8. Employee orientation will include information about the company's parental leave and pumping break policies. Changes to the breastfeeding policy will be communicated to current staff as updated.

A company policy shows that all employees are entitled to the same level of support. It clearly defines responsibilities of the employee and supervisors, promotes understanding among colleagues, and tells everyone what to expect.

Going beyond providing break time for nursing mothers

Providing the time and space for mothers to express milk during their working day is just the beginning of how employers can support new parents.

Becoming a parent is life-changing and returning to work can be extremely challenging, particularly in the early stages when a birthing parent is still in recovery. It's also a time of heightened emotions where many feel guilty for leaving their baby, anxious about their child's wellbeing, and possibly overwhelmed at adjusting to their new work life balance.

In addition to this is the added financial stress of paying for childcare or reducing hours. A decision that sees less than a quarter of women return to their full time roles after having a child.

Paid leave

The U.S. falls short when it comes to providing paid parental leave, providing only 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This results in as many as one in four American mothers returning to work as soon as two weeks after giving birth.

Providing paid leave to new parents and those going through adoption or surrogacy is essential in supporting their employees' wellbeing. It has been shown to improve infant health, breastfeeding rates and symptoms of postpartum depression. But there are many benefits of maternity leave for employers also, making it a win-win investment.

Organizations who allow employees more time to bond and care for their child are automatically regarded as more supportive, family-friendly and caring. This results in valued employees who are more engaged, more loyal, and work harder.

Flexible working

Flexibility in the workplace has become one of the most desirable aspects of a role, and is now one of the most common employee benefits. This includes reduced hours, hybrid and remote working, flexi-hours, compressed work weeks, and shift sharing.

For parents, flexibility is invaluable. It helps those navigating the early stages of parenting where nap time and a lack of sleep are paramount. It also supports those coping with symptoms of postpartum depression such as tiredness and reduced focus. And it is extremely beneficial for breastfeeding women who need to breastfeed regularly throughout the working day.

Extended maternity benefits

Parents don't receive enough support in the workplace, and as many as six million women in the U.S. have limited access to maternity care. For these reasons alone, it's vital that employers step up and adopt a family-first culture.

Maven's Maternity and Newborn Care program supports employees throughout pregnancy and the postnatal period to empower new parents to care for their physical and mental health. Access to speciality care providers such as midwives and OB-GYNs is available around-the-clock, as well as return to work resources and enhanced support for high-risk members. This also includes lactation consultants, which provide valuable support for common breastfeeding issues such as latching and low milk supply (experienced by two-thirds of new mothers).

Extended maternity benefits not only improve employee health (with up to 28% lower NICU admission rates and up to 20% lower C-section rates) but drives cost savings for employers too, with more Maven members returning to work compared to the national average.

Breast milk shipping services

Nursing in the workplace is challenging for most, but for those who travel for work it's near impossible. To ensure breastfeeding employees can still nurse on the go, employers can provide a breast milk shipping service that allows parents to send or bring milk back home to their baby while traveling anywhere in the U.S.

Mental health support

One in seven women experience postpartum depression after childbirth, with many more suffering from anxiety or depression. This is fed by multiple stresses including returning to work, unpaid leave, and struggles with breastfeeding.

A flexible work culture and paid leave helps to relieve much of this stress, but there are many other ways employers can support mental health. Maven's pregnancy, postpartum, and return-to-work programs connect employees with a mental health care professional throughout challenging periods, from childbirth to menopause. Employees also get access to support groups, internal peer networks, and educational resources.

How does Maven Clinic help you support nursing mothers in the workplace?

Maven is the world's largest virtual clinic for women's and family health. We offer resources and programs for new parents' physical and emotional needs.

With Maven Clinic's Maternity and Newborn Care program members have access to:

  • Lactation support: Members get unlimited, on-demand access to lactation consultants in Maven's network at any hour of the day or night.
  • Healthcare professionals: 35% of our member appointments take place outside of standard doctor's office hours, so our OB-GYNs and midwives are available around-the-clock.
  • Maven MilkYour employees can safely and quickly ship milk when they're away from home. That allows employees to continue working while providing for their growing families.
  • Parenting support: Mental health therapists, sleep coaches, parenting experts, and career coaches are available to help with new-parent concerns. 

Find out more about what Maven can do for your company's family health benefits program—schedule a demo today.

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