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The Breastfeeding Mom's Bill of Rights

The right to pump breastmilk at work

You have a right to be bold in asking your employer for accommodations to pump breast milk at work.

Nursing moms who go back to work may feel that it's easier to juggle a dozen baby bottles with one hand tied behind their back than it is to manage the logistics of expressing milk on the job. While breastfeeding workers may dream of regular breaks and a clean, private room in which to pump milk, the reality is that many women end up pumping in the dreaded bathroom stall. To make matters worse, bosses and coworkers are often unsupportive. In the end, some women simply decide the hassle isn't worth it. They give up and wean before they're ready.

Unfortunately, American employers aren't uniformly required to provide mothers with a place to pump breast milk in the workplace. A growing number of states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, and Tennessee) do mandate that employers enable women to breastfeed. And most require that employers provide a break time and a space that isn't a bathroom stall for workers to express milk. But others have yet to catch up with this positive trend.

Women can still do a lot to ensure success, and it pays to be bold in requesting a work atmosphere that's conducive to breastfeeding. Experts say that it's wise to talk openly with an approachable supervisor or the human resources department about your plans to express milk at work, especially if you have less job autonomy or trouble finding a private place to pump. Good, clear communication is vitally important, according to lactation consultant Carol Ann Friedman, R.N., director of Mothers At Work, a service of LifeCare, a Connecticut-based company that helps corporations set up workplace breastfeeding programs. "You can't be shy about asking for what you want." Without being demanding or combative, push for a room with a lockable door or a sign to put on the door ("Pumping in Progress," for example), a comfortable place to sit, and an electrical outlet for the pump.

"Companies have many options to assist mothers who want to pump at work," Friedman adds. "Providing a room with a breast pump gives an overall feeling of support and acceptance." Taking a cooperative approach is important. But if you are met with resistance, remind your employer that the company should treat breastfeeding workers fairly and in the same manner as other employees, even if the law doesn't mandate that it provide pumping accommodations. Says Baldwin, "If one employee is allowed to go on break to smoke a cigarette, you should have a right to pump milk on your break. Breastfeeding women are not to be discriminated against."

Amber Judd is one mom who is making it work. When Judd, a correctional officer at a California prison, was returning from maternity leave, she called to ask for workplace arrangements to pump breast milk for her 3-month-old son, Camren. The personnel director, a woman, quizzed Judd about whether the breast pump posed any danger to staff or inmates: Could it be taken apart easily? Could any parts be used as weapons? After Judd convinced her that the pump was safe, she got the go-ahead. She was transferred to a new post at an inmate medical clinic, where she could pump privately in an exam room. Everyone was very supportive, she says. Her confident, no-nonsense approach helped. "I was very matter-of-fact: Officer Judd pumps."

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