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Pumping in the Workplace - Tips for Employees, Especially Hourly and Service Workers

I recently took part in a webinar with lactation consultants offering breastfeeding tips. During the call a question came up about pumping in the workplace for service and hourly workers. While many women find pumping in the workplace to be a challenge they must deal with, it can be especially hard for hourly employees and service workers. Despite state and federal laws that are designed to help us, not every employer will comply.

pumping in the workplace

The law

The federal law to protect nursing mothers and provide break time to pump is established in the "Affordable Care Act" as follows:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148, known as the “Affordable Care Act”) amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to require employers to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” See 29 U.S.C. 207(r). The break time requirement became effective when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010.

Many states also have laws to protect nursing mothers and the federal and state laws are designed to work together. While there may be certain cases where an employer may be exempt from these laws it is rare.

You can read about the laws further here.

Despite the law, many women do not realize their rights and many employers in the hourly and service workplace will not be helpful.

Tips for dealing with your employer and your right to pump

1. Try to speak to your employer. They may be unaware of the laws since most employees will not be nursing mothers. Do not assume that they will let you know about a place or time to pump if they have not dealt with this before. So please try talking to them first, show them the federal law and look into your state laws as well. Many employers will be happy to help once they are informed.

You can also show them this break time for nursing mothers card that you can get from the U.S. Department of Labor website:

Nursing Mothers Card

2. If your employer refuses to comply you can file a complaint. If you can find the time to pump but do not have a location, do not be afraid to use the bathroom or your car if needed. It's not ideal but it will do. While a double electric pump is the most efficient, you can really pump a large amount with a manual pump as well. This Medela small manual pump that I use will break down and fit into any small bag. I have carried it many places in a small purse. If you can find a cooler or anywhere to store your milk it will last a certain number of hours.

3. As a last resort, use hand expression in the bathroom and pour the milk down the sink. While we hate to think of any milk being discarded, this is a better tactic than not emptying the breast at all and losing your milk supply. When I attended the webinar mentioned above, this was a suggestion given by a lactation consultant and I admit I had never thought of this. This tip is for the woman working in a service job with an unhelpful employer and no time or place given to pump. If you are in this situation and you can find time to go to the bathroom, hand express the milk and discard it (if you have nowhere at all to store it). This way you are still emptying your breasts at regular intervals which is critical for breastfeeding success. Draining the breast ensures more milk is made even if you cannot store and keep that milk. Breastfeed when you are with your baby and you should be able to keep your milk supply.

Check out these additional resources for more information on pumping in the workplace

A round up of State laws here.

A Huffington Post article with pumping advice written by a lawyer.

A website dedicated to breastfeeding laws:

breastfeeding law

I hope these tips help any mother pumping in the workplace. It is not always easy, and I know how discouraging it is when employers are not helpful, or downright attempt to hinder your attempts at pumping. With some creativity and determination hopefully pumping mothers can persevere and still have a successful breastfeeding relationship.


Please let me know if you have any questions about these pumping tips at all!