What Women Should Know About Breastfeeding at Work

Basics of the Break Time For Nursing law, plus tips for broaching the topic with your boss.

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Some breastfeeding advocates suggest a workplace's lactation room simply include a lock on the door and an electrical outlet, while others look for a sink and refrigerator. Most importantly, the space has to be clean, says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder of MomsRising, a nonprofit organization that advocates for family-friendly policies in the workplace. "[It has to be] a place where you'd want food to be handled," she says.

If you're not sure how to ask for breastfeeding accommodations at work, here are some tips for broaching the subject with your boss:

Check your state law first. Some states provide greater protection for breastfeeding mothers, such as requiring companies to offer break time beyond one year after the child's birth. Those greater protections override the federal law.

Ask while you're pregnant, not when you return from maternity leave. This gives your employer time to figure out the best way to accommodate you, says Berggren of WorkAndPump. That works out for both parties; your boss won't be pressed for time, and you'll have what you need when you return to work.

Write an e-mail before discussing it in person. Cathy Carothers, president of the International Lactation Consultant Association, who helps businesses create breastfeeding-friendly environments, says employers often appreciate a written request from an employee before talking about her needs during a face-to-face meeting. That prevents catching the boss off-guard, which is particularly helpful when the boss or employee might be uncomfortable with the topic.

Ask nicely rather than demanding your rights. "Employers don't like people threatening them with the law," Carothers says. "So I'd encouraged the mother not to say, 'It's the law, you have to do this for me.'" Instead, try something like, "I'd like to talk to you about some ways to work together to make this work," she says. "That approach gets women much farther."

Consider the greater good. You're not the only woman who needs to pump at work, so remember that making the request might help others, too. "Each time that somebody asks, we're opening the door for even more moms and more children to be able to do the same thing," says Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising.

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Explain how your ability to breastfeed could benefit the business. Show your boss what the company gains from making it feasible for you to pump during the day. Supporters of the nursing-at-work law say it decreases the company's healthcare costs and cuts down on mothers' sick days because breastfed babies tend to be healthier than bottle-fed infants. It can also improve employee loyalty and decrease turnover because workers appreciate being able to balance their work responsibilities with family life.

Show that you're flexible. If your employer is concerned about decreased productivity, offer to come in early or stay late to make up the time, Carothers says. Make it clear that this will help you continue to be a great employee.

If need be, reference the law. If you've tried the strategies above and your employer won't budge, maybe it's time to mention the law. Make sure you understand how it applies to you so you can accurately explain your right to pump at work.

Don't forget to claim your tax break. Breast pumps qualify as a healthcare expense, the Internal Revenue Service ruled recently. That means you can use pre-tax money from your flexible health spending account to cover your pump and supplies.