Expressing milk at work

One of the many challenges of being a new mom is leaving your little one at home after completing your maternity leave. When you have decided to continue breastfeeding, this separation becomes more complex.  

Without proper planning and the right facilities, expressing breastmilk in the workplace can become a nightmare. In her place of work, mom of three Maureen Masete Machete had to pump in her car in the parking lot because her environment did not have suitable facilities for expressing breastmilk. 

According to Lactation Consultant Carey Haupt, you need to pump at least thrice a day to keep your breastmilk supply going. From one month to six, children should have between 90-150 ml per feed and 750-1040 ml per day. 

In extreme cases and desperation, moms sit in bathroom stalls to continue expressing breastmilk and maintaining their milk supply. Award-winning Mommy Blogger Aisha O’Reilly expressed in the bathroom twice before she complained and demanded an alternative space. 

Expressing breastmilk in a public bathroom at your workplace is unsanitary and inconvenient. New moms should not sit in the bathroom listening to vibrations and Sandi peeing in the next stall. 

You might also like: Your most Googled breastfeeding questions answered by a lactation expert

What does the law say about expressing breastmilk at work? 

According to section 87 (1) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997, the minister must issue a code of good practice on the protection of employees during pregnancy and after the birth of a child. The code offers guidelines to employers and employees on the protection of the health of women during pregnancy, after birth, and during breastfeeding. 

A place to express breastmilk

According to the code, “employers are required to provide and maintain a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees”. Labour Lawyer Linda Gouveia says the three important factors of breastmilk expressing rooms are: 

  • Cleanliness
  • Accessibility
  • Security

The room has to be private, clean and with space to sit down. Moms should also have a fridge to store their breastmilk bags. Haupt was called in for a meeting after her colleagues complained about storing breastmilk in the same refrigerator as their food. For them, breastmilk in the fridge was a foreign concept. She quickly learned how unsupportive workspaces and colleagues can be towards new moms. 

Gouveia adds that employers should conduct risk assessments of their workspace and make appropriate changes to accommodate breastfeeding mothers. 

Haupt advises moms to have a chat with their employers if they are planning to continue breastfeeding. This will give them time to make a plan for a breastfeeding mom in case they do not have the right facilities.

ALSO READ: To breast or not to breast?

Breaks for expressing breastmilk in the workplace 

Section 5.13 of the code of good practice states that “arrangements should be made for employees who are breastfeeding to have breaks of 30 minutes twice per day.” These two 30 minute breaks are over and above the hour lunch break that all employees are entitled to. They can be used for going to feed the baby if they are close by (on-site nursery) or expressing. 

This is only for the first 6 months of a child’s life.

How can the rights of breastfeeding moms be protected in the workplace? 

Arranging a meeting with the human resources department to discuss these issues is a big first step. Employers can then formulate amicable solutions that can accommodate new moms. Women should continue to organise and advocate for sanitary and private spaces to express breastmilk. In addition, women should never accept the option to use the bathroom to express breastmilk in the workplace.