You can support your patients in continuing to breastfeed after returning to the workplace by helping them get what they need to express or “pump” breast milk during the workday. Many workers in the U.S. return to work relatively soon after childbirth, often due to economic necessity. Your patients may face obstacles that make it difficult to continue breastfeeding. Here’s what you need to know to help.
Breastfeeding workers typically need to express milk using a breast pump 2–3 times during an 8-hour workday (or 3–4 times in a 12-hour shift) to maintain their milk production and avoid health complications. Many work under circumstances where they do not have the flexibility to take breaks without permission, and therefore must request an accommodation to take regular pumping breaks.
Employees who are breastfeeding require private space that is free from intrusion where they can relax and pump. Most do not have an office with a door and require special permission to use a private space. Managers may not understand that breast milk is food that should not be prepared in a bathroom.
Studies indicate that 60% of women do not have both the time and the space needed to express breast milk in their workplace. Women who did have the time and space to pump were 2.3 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months.
See Kozhimannil et al., Access to Workplace Accommodations to Support Breastfeeding after Passage of the Affordable Care Act, Women’s Health Issues, 2015.
Doctors can help their patients continue breastfeeding after their return to work by:
1. Talking to them about breastfeeding at work. Encourage your patient to make a plan for pumping at work, and to speak with her employer about her needs before returning.
2. Writing an effective work note for your patient if she anticipates or experiences difficulty with her employer. This may help her get the accommodation she needs.
Read our factsheet for more about workplace breastfeeding accommodations, your patients’ rights, and how you can help.
Download our sample workplace accommodation note.
To ask questions or arrange for a presentation at your healthcare institution, contact us at (415)565-4640.