Are you planning on continuing to breastfeed when you go back to work? Are you nervous about talking to your boss about it? Here are some tips on how to ask about pumping at work.
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Quick overview of legal rights regarding pumping at work
First, you should know what your legal rights are. If you are in the US, you may be covered by the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law that was passed in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act.
The law requires employers to provide reasonable break time for lactating mothers to express milk. It also requires that lactating mothers be provided with a place to pump that is shielded from view, is free from intrusion, and is not a restroom.
The law covers employees that are non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, companies with fewer than 50 employees may seek an exemption from the law if complying with it may cause an undue burden.
You may have additional protections at the state level. More information on this and about how to find out what the laws are in your state here.
What do you need to ask for?
The two things that you need are:
- Pumping breaks (if you have no idea how much time you’ll need, you can see sample pumping at work schedules here)
- A private place to pump that is not a restroom
Ideally, you would also have access to a refrigerator to store your breastmilk while you’re at work and a sink to wash your pumping gear as needed, but these two things are what is essential.
How to ask about pumping at work
Now that you know your legal rights, what’s the best way to discuss it with your boss? Here’s a few things to consider.
Note: The following is based on my own experience as an employee who pumped at work under three different managers. This is what I would tell a friend who is struggling with this, but I’m not an HR or employment expert.
Before you ask, ask around
If you’re nervous about talking to your boss about pumping at work, it’s a good idea to do a little research first. Are there other women at your office who have had babies in the past few years? Talk to them about their experience – did they pump at work? If so, where? Were there issues getting breaks? How did they talk to their boss about it? Etc.
Then, if your company is large enough to have an employee handbook, check it to see if there are any policies regarding pumping at work and lactation breaks. If your company has an HR department, you may also want to reach out to them.
This should give you an idea of what (if any) the “norm” is at your office and potential issues that you may want to keep in mind when talking to your boss.
Consider the best way to have the conversation
Before you actually talk to your manager, spend some time thinking about the best way to go about this in your particular situation. Is she the type who prefers to discuss things like this in person? Or do you think email would work better to lay out what you need without getting you flustered?
Everyone’s workplace and relationship with their manager is different, so it’s important to know your corporate culture and your general relationship with your boss when making this decision. Some managers would absolutely want to discuss this in a one on one meeting. I suspect my current manager would rather get an email, so that’s what I would do.
Think about timing
The other thing to consider is timing. Ideally, you’d talk to your manager about this before you go on maternity leave; if not, then in the weeks leading up to your return. The last thing you want to do is show up on your first day back and not have a place to pump.
Additionally, if possible, you may want to try to have the conversation at a time that sets you up for success – i.e., your boss isn’t overly preoccupied with a deadline or other pressing issue. (However, if your manager is always stressed out and there is no “good” time, don’t let that put you off from having the conversation. This is part of their job.)
Actually having the conversation
If you’re nervous about this conversation, I’d recommend writing down your points ahead of time. Write down what you need, and any ideas you have for making this work in your role.
If you get pushback from your manager, one thing that you might try is using the word “we” when responding. So, if you have legal protections for pumping at work, you might say something like, “The law requires us to have a space for moms to pump at work; I don’t think we would want to go against that.”
How to ask for a lactation room
If your employer is required to provide you with a lactation room, obviously, this is ultimately their responsibility. And in an ideal world, every office would have a dedicated lactation room with a fridge, sink, comfortable chair, etc.
However, if your employer is not legally obligated to do this, a few things that you might want to do when you ask for a lactation room include:
- Suggest options that your boss might not have thought of that might work for you. This can be difficult in offices without a lot of extra space, but maybe there is an office that is infrequently used, or a conference room you could book a few times a day.
- When asking for a space, consider using the word “safe” instead of “private,” i.e., “I need a safe place to pump.” The vast majority of managers are going to want their employees to be safe at work.
If you’d like to put a sign on the door while you pump, you can download free pumping in progress signs here.
What if you’re starting a new job? When and how do you talk to your new employer about pumping at work?
When I’ve been in this situation, I brought it up after accepting the offer, before starting work, and before giving notice at my old job. (I tend to be risk-averse, though – this exact order of events may not be necessary for you!)
Should you have the conversation over the phone or via email? It depends on how you’ve been communicating with the company thus far – if it’s mostly been via phone or email, I would probably continue using that mode of communication. If you’ve been talking to them through a recruiter (either in HR or an external recruiter), you could ask them for the best way to reach out to your hiring manager about some logistical questions.
If you reach out via email, you could first say how excited you are about the new role, mention briefly what you’ll need in a matter-of-fact way, ask them to let you know if they have any questions, and then bring it back to the work and how you look forward to contributing.
I hope this helps you with some ideas about how to ask about pumping at work! Feel free to share your experience or other tips in the comments!