New moms have a lot on their minds. One thing they shouldn’t be worrying about is whether they’ll be able to continue breastfeeding when they go back to work. Thanks to the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, many employers are required to provide nursing employees with time and a private space to pump at work. Some businesses may face more challenges than others when it comes to meeting these requirements. But with a little creativity, most businesses can make it work. Take Stephanie Svec, for example. Her staff aren’t in an office setting, but spend most of the day in their cars. Time isn’t an issue, but what about a private space? Find out how Stephanie is helping one of her employees meet her breastfeeding needs.
Q: What do you do?
A: I’m the clinical director of Seniors' Services at the Affiliated Santé Group. Our goal is to meet the mental health needs of homebound older adults in Montgomery County, MD. We provide free, individual therapy to older adults in their homes. We also offer a variety of mental health prevention and early intervention activities to the whole community. We provide these services in English, Spanish, and Farsi. I’ve been the director for four years.
Q: What challenges do you face when trying to make sure your employees who are new moms have time and a private space to pump at work?
A: My staff generally make their own schedules, so adjusting schedules to allow time to pump isn’t an issue. Employees who are breastfeeding are free to arrange their time so that it works best for them. This is one of the benefits of doing what we do.
However, we face huge challenges with privacy. My staff drive all day, which means their offices are their cars. We had to reinvent what privacy meant. We want to make sure nursing employees can feel comfortable while they’re out doing their jobs but still meet their pumping needs. Our clients could be anywhere in the county, so having to return to the office to pump during the day wouldn’t be a good use of time. I knew finding something more creative than driving to and from our main office was a priority.
Q: One of your employees recently had a baby. What accommodations have you made so she can pump at work when she returns from maternity leave?
A: When she is at the main office for our clinical team meeting, she will have a private office to use when she needs to pump. We have another nursing mom in our main office, so that’s already been set up. However, the majority of her work will occur in the field. To accommodate this, we decided to pay to tint the windows in her car. This way, she can pump while she’s on the go. I can’t take credit for the idea. She came up with it, but I was more than happy to pay for it!
Q: Will you tell us about the conversations you had around your employee’s pumping needs?
A: After receiving an email from my staff member about this, I had a conversation with our human resources director. We talked about what the law requires, but most importantly, we talked about what was the “right” thing to do. Providing an office was something we would have done regardless, but to really support her and her job’s special considerations, we needed something that didn’t require her to drive back and forth to the office. That would have added drive time and made her workday longer. We want to support her, not make her day longer and more stressful. So we agreed the car window tinting was the best way to really meet her needs.
Q: What’s your advice to women who may feel uncomfortable asking their employers about pumping at work?
A: Talk to your employer! Before I was a supervisor, I never realized how much my bosses wanted me to succeed. Now I realize that’s all I want for my staff. If they succeed, our whole team succeeds. So, start the conversation believing your boss wants to support you. This will help you create a conversation that is about working together, not against each other.
Q: When is the best time for soon-to-be moms to have these conversations with their employer?
A: I think the earlier the better. The time before the baby is born is ideal because there may already be accommodations in place. Also, it takes pressure off the employee. New moms have enough to do. Knowing how things will work on your first day back is one less worry. Most importantly, don’t procrastinate if you are uncomfortable about having the conversation. That will put everyone under an unnecessary time crunch.
Q: What are the benefits of supporting nursing moms in the workplace?
A: Happy employees! I manage with the belief that we are all interconnected. If that’s true, a supported nursing mother will be more likely to be satisfied in her job and work hard. That benefits everyone. Another benefit: Supported employees talk! The best asset you have when you are trying to hire is your current staff. They will spread the word that your company is a good place to work.
Q: What tips would you give to other managers about supporting breastfeeding employees?
A: Have a conversation with your staff member as soon as you can. Don’t wait for your employees to address it if it’s getting close to the time for them to go on maternity leave. They might feel uncomfortable about it, especially if you are a man. A manager can talk to their human resources department to find out what their organization has done in the past. Then, schedule the conversation. Opening up the conversation relieves a lot of stress for your staff member and shows that you value their coming back to work after having their baby.
Q: What do you think other employers should know about supporting breastfeeding moms?
A: You will benefit! It shows your commitment to your staff, and they notice that. It also shows your commitment to diversity. When you have a variety people on your staff (age, gender, race, culture, etc.), you are getting different ideas. If you don’t support nursing moms, you may lose out on a segment of the population that can bring a different perspective to your workplace.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A: When my staff member told me she was pregnant, I was very happy for her. After she shared the news, I began to think about how I could let her know she was appreciated and how much I wanted her to return to work after she had her baby. To me, that’s all it was. I wanted a great employee and member of my team to return. That was my goal, so I was happy to do anything I could to help her. Lastly, from a business perspective, I don’t know anyone who likes to be short staffed. I prioritize employee retention. I think of supporting nursing moms as a part of that.
Visit Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employer Solutions to find low-cost, creative ideas for all kinds of businesses. You can also learn more about the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.
The statements and opinions in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.