Booby Traps Series: “Milking” your benefits when going on maternity leave and pumping at work

This is the 66th post in a series on Booby Traps, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

I’m very pleased to share a guest post by Lauren Wallenstein, a former human resources manager who now helps moms decipher what these policies mean to them through her business, Milk Your Benefits (on Facebook).  She also works with companies that want to offer the service as a benefit to their employees.  I interviewed Lauren for a Motherlove podcast earlier this year on how to “milk” your maternity leave and pumping rights.

I asked Lauren to describe some Booby Traps nursing moms face when they figure out what leave and other benefits they’re entitled to, and what moms can do to avoid those barriers.

Here are the Booby Traps she identified:

1) Returning to work too soon: The biggest impediment to breastfeeding that working mothers face is the pressure to rush back to work. Employers often either misrepresent when moms are legally required to return, or they deliberately mislead them into returning before absolutely necessary. When new mothers return too quickly, they have less time to establish a breastfeeding schedule.

And it goes downhill from there: Mothers who go back quickly breastfeed less and pump sooner than is recommended for ideal milk supply. In a perfect world, mothers would be on maternity leave for many months and would only need to introduce a bottle shortly before going back to work.

So the question becomes, how do we ensure that new mothers maximize their maternity leaves? The answer is to be certain you find out which leave laws apply to your state and verify your eligibility for them. When you know for sure that you’ve stayed on maternity leave for as long as possible, it will make nursing and going back to work that much easier.

2) Having a place to pump at work is another hurdle that mothers face. In 2010, the Obama administration enacted a breastfeeding law requiring that employers provide a reasonable break time and place for new mothers to pump or nurse. But the reality is that this law isn’t commonly known or adhered to because of how recently it was mandated, particularly by small employers who haven’t had new mothers as employees before. I always advise my clients to sort out where exactly they will pump before their leave begins. Being unsure of the location can create anxiety because often the onus is on mothers to notify their employers of the law’s existence. Additionally, not every employer is “excited” to fulfill its legal obligations under this law because it requires space planning, so it’s best to alert your employer well in advance that they will need to make this accommodation.

3) Pumping Logistics: Moms who pump at work often have to reschedule calls or meetings to excuse themselves. (If you would normally feed your baby every two hours, for example, then you would need to pump at those exact times.) The easiest way to manage these interruptions in the flow of work is to tell your boss and coworkers that you are pumping, all the while underscoring that your work will be still be completed on time. It may take a little extra effort on your part, but once you prove that you can take pumping breaks AND still perform well, they’ll recognize that it’s a non-issue.

4) Flexible schedules: Many new moms would like to transition to a work-from-home or part-time work schedule following their maternity leave in an effort to make breastfeeding easier. But employers are not always amenable to this type of arrangement, particularly in cases where the job requires working at the office. If you harbor any dreams of changing your work location or hours, be sure you have that conversation shortly after your baby is born so that a) you know for sure you still want to pursue the issue and; b) you have plenty of time to make any necessary arrangements in case the dream is vetoed.

Lauren Wallenstein, owner of Milk Your Benefits, is a Human Resources consultant and mother who works with expectant parents in California. She also works with companies that want to offer the service as a benefit to their employees.

Did you have trouble figuring out what leave and pumping rights you were entitled to?  Were you able to milk your benefits?


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