5 Things Employers Should Know about Breastfeeding

by Katrina on August 9, 2010

I recently wrote a series about barriers to pumping at work, which reappeared, in shorter form, on the Huffington Post.

Given the comments and emails I’ve received from distressed, exhausted, and humiliated moms who read the story, ignorance in alive and well in the workplace. Even HR managers have trouble understanding how or why they should support a breastfeeding mom.

The ignorance is sort of understandable. If you haven’t breastfed a child yourself, or lived with someone who has, you don’t know what all the fuss is about. That’s why I’ve put together this short list. Please send it to your boss, your HR director, your coworkers, and anyone you know who is in a position to support new moms in the workplace.

If you prefer to send a more printer-friendly pdf version, download it here.

5 Things Employers Should Know about Breastfeeding

1. You are required by law to accommodate nursing moms.

The law used to be fuzzy on this, and it used to vary from state to state. But since the health care reform bill was passed in March 2010, it’s crystal clear. By law, all employers must provide breastfeeding employees with reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday. You can read the full text of the law here.

2. We need time.

What is reasonable break time? Typically, it takes 15 minutes to pump, plus time to get to and from the lactation room and clean the pump parts. Most women need to pump 2-3 times a day in an 8-hour period. If we’re not given adequate time to pump, we can develop a pretty serious infection called mastitis which is painful, can cause a fever, and may require antibiotics. And even if a woman doesn’t develop mastitis, if she doesn’t have enough time during the day to pump, her milk supply will start to disappear.

3. We need privacy.

This is a breast pump.

We need a small, quiet space (not a bathroom stall!) with windows that can be covered, an outlet, and a door that locks.

It’s important to understand that breastfeeding and pumping breast milk are two very different things. Lots of women breastfeed in public. It’s sweet. It’s natural. It’s part of caring for a baby. It can be done discreetly for those who are modest, with a cloth draped over the baby’s head.

Pumping is a totally different deal. It is not natural. Pumping involves complicated equipment that needs to be assembled and disassembled at every pump break. The pump itself makes loud, groaning noises and evokes thoughts of dairy farm machinery. Asking a nursing mom to pump in a space that is not private is like asking someone to pee in the hallway. It’s barbaric.

Here are some of the unacceptable places women have told me they had to pump: a bathroom stall, a closet that doesn’t close completely, a storage room with foul smelling solvents, a cubicle, a car, a conference room with clear glass walls, and rooms that don’t lock.

4. We need understanding.

Unless they have children of their own, most adults don’t get this whole breastfeeding thing. Supervisors and coworkers may act resentful about the “special breaks” nursing moms get. They may imply that there is something weird or even perverted about pumping. They may think storing milk in the company refrigerator is gross.

It’s important that you, the boss, set a positive, respectful tone for the rest of the company.

One way to do this is to be proactive. Talk with your employee, preferably before she goes on maternity leave. Let her know that you’d like to work with her to make sure she has the appropriate accommodations if she decides she wants to continue breastfeeding when she returns to work. The last thing an exhausted new mom needs is to try to explain to her HR director what a breast pump is the first day back from maternity leave.

If you hear or hear of rude comments from coworkers about a breastfeeding mom, it is your job to address them, just as you would address a racist or sexist comment in the workplace.

We need your empathy. New moms are torn in two directions when they return to work. Sometimes it feels impossible to be a good employee and be a good parent. There is nothing selfish about a new mom who is making the extra effort to continue breastfeeding and still do her job. She is a hero. You should give her a trophy. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, see #5.

5. Everyone benefits, including your business.

One of the primary reasons a woman breastfeeds her baby is the health benefits. Breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that add up to healthier babies and healthier mothers, and that happens to add up to a healthier workforce, and a healthier economy (through lower health care costs). The benefits are too numerous to list out, and new ones are still being discovered. Here are a few:

Baby benefits

  • Lower risk of stomach viruses, respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and meningitis
  • Lower risk of various conditions later in life, including type 1 & 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Improved cognitive development (Yup. Studies show breastfed babies have slightly higher IQs.)

Mother benefits

  • Lower risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes
  • Mitigation of stress and postpartum depression
  • Joyful bonding with baby
  • Cheaper than formula (although breast pumps aren’t cheap)

Business benefits (from The Business Case for Breastfeeding)

  • Lower turnover
    Retention rates for companies with lactation support programs are 94%, versus the national average of only 59%.
  • Lower absenteeism
    One-day absences to care for sick children occur more than twice as often for mothers of formula feeding infants.
  • Lower medical insurance claims
    For every 1,000 babies not breastfed, a study found there are 2,033 extra physician visits, 212 extra hospitalization days, and 609 extra prescriptions for three illnesses alone–ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infection.
  • Improved productivity & morale
    Employees at companies that support breastfeeding report improved morale, better satisfaction with their jobs, and higher productivity.

Economy benefits

And last but not least…If 90 percent of families were able to  breastfeed exclusively for six months (as doctors recommend), the United States could save $13 billion annually.

Need more information?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has The Business Case for Breastfeeding with all kinds of information for employers who need help complying with the law.

The National Breastfeeding Helpline (800-994-9662) is a free service staffed with peer counselors who offer breastfeeding support and can answer questions in English and Spanish.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }


This is awesome!!!!!
I especially love including a picture of a breast pump, and explaining the difference between nursing and pumping- very helpful for those who have never done it.
I hope this info is widely distributed and well read.



Thanks you – and where were you 8 years ago?! This is great. If nothing else it relieves some of my guilt for having asked for “so much” when returning to work and pride in having made it happen!



I love this list! I think it is really hard for someone to understand who hasn’t seen pumping to understand that the process is one of complete exposure. It isn’t that we aren’t willing to do it in a bathroom, but people coming in and out or having to wait for us is the problem. There are so many benefits to providing a baby with breast milk – which you outline beautifully – for everyone.
I have seen irritated comments about your breast feeding posts where you can really feel the scorn. People seem to feel like wanting privacy and time to breastfeed is just another privileged woman wanting special accommodations. I almost think if we could just strap people into those contraptions for a moment all resistance would vanish.
Like most working women, I have to work. My family wouldn’t eat if I didn’t come to work each day. I desperately wanted to stay home with my babies. This wasn’t an option for me. Maintaining their good health and the maternal bond that gives children a solid footing in this world through breast feeding was the next best thing. Thanks for the post!



This is an awesome blog I just stumbled on! Way to go and keep it up for us women that choose to work, nurse, and try to do it all even though we dont have to!!

Could you image how much would be saved if WIC programs promoted more breastfeeding and less formula coupons? It may in some sense also help parenting in the long run!



Thanks for such a great post. I just stumbled on this and wish I had it when I first came back to work in November after my daughter was born. I’ve sense pumped at work but not without comments and issues with poeple. I’m going to print this and keep it in my pump bag so I can show people when they ask questions or make comments!



This one is for the moms.

Someone just sent me a link to this tutorial on hands-free pumping that I just had to share: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/pumping/hands-free-pumping.html



I totally support moms who breastfeed their babies & pump as well. However, I do not understand why they are allowed more than the allotted time to impinge on the breaks and lunch hours of their coworkers. I know this is more of a managerial/HR issue but if this was a law that benefited ALL workers in the workplace why would there not be anything protecting the people who are not “moms pumping” or the males in the office. I am female and I am having a difficult time trying to get my manager to deal with a coworker who is pumping and her son is over 1 years of age! I have missed a few lunch breaks or had to have them take them 2 hours before I go home or no 15 minute to decompress at all…not exactly conducive to said morale!



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But, what about the bottom line? Are you certain concerning
the supply?



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What an informative article. I am working in a European based company. All my European colleagues are getting 1 to 2 years maternity leave. As Asian, this can never happen but I still appreciate as I have a 16 weeks off. When I was back, I didn’t get the support from my manager. I got the request for overseas team building the first week that I got back to office. Initially, I rejected the trip and he asked how long I intend to nurse my daughter and if I cannot travel when I am still nursing and he would like to check if there is any local HR policy on breastfeeding mother. At the end, I gave in with the condition that I get to come home the same day. The next two weeks I am on leave as there are things happened at home and I need to look after baby. He said its totally unacceptable for me to give one day notice. Despite the fact that I am taking leave but still working from home, he is still unhappy over it. I got a stern message and a meting invitation to discuss the principles of applying leave and working from home. I am totally torn in between work and family. I felt much better after reading the article and the comments from the working moms are really helpful. Thank you all. 🙂



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Doulla tankersler

I do not give a dam about you, your breasts, or your kid. Taking a minimum Of 90 minutes a day for personal reasons–time not being used for anything useful to work– is untenable for employers. I now only hire do.an over 50.


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This is something that my wife is very passionate about, and I agree with her and you. Employers need to make sure breastfeeding mothers are given the time and the place to pump. It is a natural thing and you will get much better work out of them if you are able to help them out. Really, it doesn’t take all that much effort to set aside a room.


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