When you’re expecting, you probably have many tasks to check off your to-do list before the baby is born. One of them might be talking to your employer about your plans to return to work after maternity leave.
If you plan to breastfeed, a necessary conversation will be while you’re at work. When is a good time to initiate this discussion? Who is the right person to talk to? How do I bring up this topic, and what in the world do I say?
Hey, You. I see your worry through the computer screen or phone. Don’t stress! I’ve got you covered. I’m going to break down when and how to talk to your employer about pumping. Here are my five foolproof suggestions.
Have The Right Mindset
This is my number one tip for a lot of things when it comes to breastfeeding. Mindset is so important! Before you talk to your employer, you need to know your rights. There are actually laws that require companies to accommodate employees who pump.
The legal jargon is enough to put even a colicky baby to sleep, but the gist is this: The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law says that employers are legally required to provide break time to express milk and a space that is not a bathroom for you to pump.
Now, after you have a baby, you have been through many changes mentally/physically/emotionally. Physically, you are adjusting to your postpartum body, and any version of that body is perfectly OK. You’ve created a person! From a social standpoint, you may worry that coworkers will treat you differently now that you have had a baby. You might have this general fear that you’re going to go back, and everyone will be waiting for you to screw up and be “less than”. You could be exuding energy that says, “I’ve already been rejected, so please let me have this permission to pump.”
Noooooooo. You are not asking “permission” to pump. Remember — you have the law backing you (especially if your company has more than 50 employees), so you should start the conversation thinking that your employer has already said it’s OK to pump at work. Your mindset should be, “This is something that’s available to me, so how can we smoothly make this transition?” Additionally, the energy you have when you begin ANY conversation is typically mirrored back to you. Therefore, start the discussion with the energy that says you are “working together” and that, “pumping is no big deal”.
Find Out Who to Talk To & When
Now that you’ve got the mindset down, you might be wondering, “Who is the right person to discuss pumping with?” I recommend starting with your direct supervisor and asking, “Are you the correct person to talk to about this?” If not, your boss can point you in the right direction. Perhaps it’s your supervisor’s boss or someone from the human resources department.
As far as timeline, definitely do it while you’re still pregnant. Don’t wait until maternity leave or when you’ve already returned to work. Usually, during your third trimester, you’ll begin filling out paperwork for FMLA and short-term disability (if it applies). That is generally a good time to talk about pumping.
Know the benefits of breastfeeding and pumping at work.
Even though your employer can’t legally deny you pumping time and space, it doesn’t hurt to know the pros of feeding your baby breastmilk. This is especially true if the representative you’ll be talking with doesn’t know much about breastfeeding and its benefits. Again, it doesn’t have to be a conversation full of rage! I venture to say MOST (not all) employers who appear to be anti-breastfeeding are just uninformed. Maybe you are the first person that has ever come to them with a pumping-need. Get ready to kindly educate them. There are information toolkits available online that you can give to your employer if needed.
Be aware that employers could have some fear of not having any control over your pumping. They might have it in the back of their minds that you’ll be missing too much work. Just know that’s coming from a mindset of scarcity and ignorance.
Share with your boss that statistics show breastfeeding and pumping moms have lower absenteeism and higher productivity. Antibodies in breastmilk protect babies from a variety of diseases and infections, which cuts down on employees using sick time because of a child’s illness. Research has also revealed that breastfeeding may protect against postpartum depression. Employers should know that when you feel supported in breastfeeding and pumping, you are more likely to be invested in your work, creating better results and profits for the company.
Partner With Your Employer
When you talk with your supervisor about pumping, make him or her feel included in the planning. Explain that a pumping room should not be a bathroom. It should be a private space with the minimum of a chair, an electrical outlet, and a nearby sink. Mention that you’ll need to use the refrigerator if there is one in your workplace. (If not, you may have to take a small cooler with ice packs to work.)
Every once in a while, there is an employer who goes the extra mile to create a brand-new pumping space. If your employer decides to turn a closet into a lactation room and asks for your input, remember that you are trailblazing for everyone who will come after you. Ask for all the things! Here are some suggestions:
- Sink to rinse pump parts
- Paper towel dispenser
- Mood lighting, not fluorescent
- Mini fridge to store pumped milk
- Labels, especially if more than one employee is pumping, so you can distinguish between bags
- Corkboard for baby pictures
- Cabinet with lock and key, so you can keep your pumping supplies there
- Anything else that will make your life easier
Pump At Work & Don't Feel Guilty
I know — telling a parent not to feel guilty (about anything!) is like convincing a young child that he doesn’t need a snack. It’s pretty much impossible. But please, you’ve got to try to let go of any guilt you might have. You are keeping a human alive with your breastmilk. Don’t feel bad about taking some time to pump, especially if you have a NICU baby or a baby who’s unwell.
Perhaps you have a private office. You can shut and lock the door, strap on your hands-free pumping equipment, and keep right on working at your desk. I am here to encourage you to still take a break from work, even if just for a few minutes.
If you don’t take an actual break, your supply could take a hit. Remember — pumping is mimicking feeding your baby. Your body needs those hormones to make milk. Take a minute for yourself and eat a healthy snack and breathe. You are literally STILL growing a human, like when you were pregnant. The baby is just on the outside now.
Moving forward with the pumping conversation
Are you ready for the pumping discussion now? I hope you’re feeling a little less anxious about the potential awkwardness. I promise, it’s usually not as bad as you think it’s going to be. Sometimes, there can be pushback, but there are laws in place to help with that.