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Making It Work

Negotiating with an Employer during Pregnancy

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 14 No. 1, January-February 1997, pp. 15-16

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I'm expecting first baby and plan to breastfeed. I'll be returning to work soon after my baby is born. Since I'm not yet a breastfeeding mother, I'm not sure what ideas to offer my employer that will make working and breastfeeding easier. Any suggestions?


I am a working mother of two (aged two and four) who successfully expressed milk for my babies while continuing my career as a manufacturing engineer in the automotive industry. In fact, I expressed milk for each of my babies until they were 18 months old, and we still enjoy a nursing relationship today!

Perhaps I am one of the lucky ones. My employers totally supported my pumping decision from the beginning with no questions asked.

Educating others of the importance and benefits of breastfeeding is a useful first step. Here is some persuasive information to discuss with supervisors and/or co-workers.

Some of the most significant benefits to mother and baby of breastfeeding through the first one to two years include:

  • fewer infant illnesses
  • illnesses which do occur are milder, resulting in fewer trips to the doctor
  • fewer days missed from work to care for a sick infant
  • higher IQs for children who are breastfed
  • better hand-eye coordination
  • mother's sustained production of the mothering hormone prolactin
  • deeper parent-child connection
  • milk formulation changes to meet changing nutritional needs of baby.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and the US Surgeon General all advise that human milk is absolutely best for human babies. They recommend breastfeeding for at least one year. In many cultures of the world, breastfeeding is considered in terms of a two to three year duration. Former Surgeon General Dr. Antonia Novello, after extolling the benefits of breastfeeding, added, "It's the lucky baby, I feel, who continues to nurse until he is two." Yet, by some estimates, fewer than 6% of babies in the US continue to be breastfed at age one.

Your employer needs to know that not much is required to support you:

  • a private place with electrical outlets (although battery-operated pumps are available and work very well for many women)
  • a refrigerated place to store the milk (if this is not available, cool-packs will do nicely)
  • time to pump

My pumping sessions took 20 minutes twice a day, using a dual-electric pump, and I adjusted my flexible schedule to cover this time. You might be able to meet the needs of your baby by pumping once a day during lunch. If your workplace is a non-smoking facility, a schedule arrangement to consider is to compare your workday to the average smoker's. Pumping probably takes you off the job a shorter time each day (and over your entire career) than leaving the building to smoke. And breastfeeding improves the health of mother and baby, unlike smoking.

Pamela Wallace
Brentwood TN USA


Do not be afraid to go to your boss with a plan. If you have to pump twice during your work day, consider splitting your lunch time into two shorter breaks so you can pump. Explain how important it is to you and how it will benefit your child's health and will inevitably lead to fewer days you have to take off to care for your child if she or he should become sick. If your boss is not real thrilled with this whole pumping idea, ask for a trial period so she or he can see that your work will not suffer. Even if your boss says "no" you can still do as much pumping as you can during your breaks and your lunch since this is your time to do with as you please.

Lianne Learnard
Lunenburg MA USA


Nearly eight years ago, I combined full-time work with breastfeeding my son exclusively. I recommend that you make your pumping schedule (and other requirements) a part of the larger discussion you have with your employer about your maternity leave and reentry. When preparing for this discussion/negotiation, take a trip to your local library. The library is a good place to search for magazine articles/periodicals pertaining to maternity leave, especially in light of the recent Family and Medical Leave Act in the United States. Another idea is to review your company's personnel handbook. (Remember to look under "illness" or "sick leave" since, unfortunately, pregnancy and postpartum recovery are often classified as such.) If you know another woman in your company who successfully pumped at work, ask for her suggestions, too.

After you've armed yourself with this research, formulate your plan. Pretend you're your manager. What are her/his priorities and concerns? Approaching the discussion from this point of view will help you anticipate "problems" that you, not your employer, are responsible for solving.

Next, practice your presentation with someone who knows nothing about maternity leaves or pumping. This person will probably ask questions you hadn't considered. This will help you formulate a comprehensive plan that's likely to be accepted on the first presentation.

Finally, ask for a half-hour or so to discuss your plan with your employer. I'd suggest doing so in your sixth month because the second trimester is usually a good psychological and physical time in your pregnancy and, if all goes well, you have two or three months left to iron out any areas of disagreement which remain after the first "negotiation session."

Technically, there's only one "requirement" you must ask of your employer: Understanding. You may need flexibility, electricity, refrigeration, privacy, or something else, but you're unlikely to get any of these without your employer understanding why this is important to you and how it will affect the company's bottom line. When your manager understands the benefits of breastfeeding to the company's bottom line (including health care costs and sick leave), you'll be speaking their language!

One woman I know asked her manager for an informal flex-time arrangement whereby she "banked" fifteen minutes before and after work here and there to give her the extra time she occasionally needed to be a nursing mother. A clever Florida mother nominated her company for an award after they let her nurse her baby and the company eventually set up a pumping station for nursing mothers! From what I hear, it's much easier to talk to employers about breastfeeding now than it was when I did it.

Be creative and ask for what you want and need. It is not your employer's responsibility to anticipate your needs, but if you're prepared, you'll probably be rewarded when your plan is accepted on the spot!

Tamela Rich
Charlotte NC USA

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