While companies may be aware of their legal obligations to their pregnant employees and to their employees on parental leave, many may not be aware that regulations also govern the rights of nursing mothers after they return to work. Existing federal, state and local laws provide accommodations for nursing mothers with new or expanding laws being enacted, so it is important for employers to be aware of these laws and how they affect their business.
Taking care of your employees throughout their journey from pregnancy through parental leave and then as working parents can go a long way toward enhancing workplace morale and employee retention. We recommend that companies go beyond legal requirements and incorporate best practices for supporting parents in the workplace whenever possible. These best practices for supporting parents often include offering benefits that may not be required, such as extended or company-paid parental leave, flexible scheduling with the ability to work remotely or lactation rooms in the office.
Being a nursing, working mother can be tricky on a good day but it can be particularly daunting when traveling. Employers can help ensure success for the nursing mothers on their team by providing them with the support they need while on business travel. Here are four ways companies—and employees themselves—can be prepared for a nursing mother’s business travel.
It’s important to realize that not all mothers have an equal ability to express enough breast milk to cover the needs of their child while they are away. And the longer the business trip, the more likely the mother won’t have enough milk stored to cover her entire travel time. In this instance, the employee may need to ship her milk home intermittently while on business-related trips. In fact, even if quantity is not a concern, the load can literally be lifted by shipping milk home during business travel, thus alleviating the need to carry milk throughout multiple airports or figure out how to keep it cold on flights.
Milk Stork, for instance, is a service that exists with the sole purpose of transporting breast milk and promoting a career-breastfeeding balance for nursing mothers.
Picture this familiar story for many business travelers: A worker is scheduled for a three-day business trip filled with back-to-back meetings during the day, followed by rushing off to nightly team dinners and then heading back to their hotel room for an evening of answering emails and playing catch-up with their normal day-to-day assignments. This pace starts as soon as their plane lands and doesn’t end until they rush off to the airport to leave. For a nursing mother, this packed schedule leaves little time to pump.
It is important to keep in mind that traveling mothers who are nursing don’t just need locations in which they can pump but the time to do so. Also, it is not uncommon for a nursing mother to need three or more sessions throughout the business day and several sessions in the evening. With prep and milk storage time, each session can take 30 minutes or longer.
Applicable federal, state and local laws require employers to allow reasonable break times for employees to express milk whenever the need arises. It’s important for employees and managers to discuss beforehand any breaks the employee anticipates needing throughout each travel day.
For employees who will be traveling with their milk instead of shipping it home, there are processes to be aware of. Navigating how to travel with breast milk can be overwhelming, especially at first. Therefore, it’s a good idea for nursing mothers to arm themselves with a copy of the Transportation Security Administration’s guidelines for traveling with breast milk. It is also wise for nursing mothers to print out these regulations and include them with their carry-on so they are prepared should any issues arise regarding breast milk while going through airport security.
As a nursing mother, verifying access to a clean and private space to express breast milk should not end within the assigned office location. Here are some things employees may want to do ahead of time to verify they’ll have the accommodations they need while traveling:
• Connect with someone at client locations, meeting halls or other non-company environments the nursing mother will be visiting to verify a lactation space will be provided, especially where required by law.
• Find out if the airport(s) she’ll be traveling through provide pumping stations and make sure to keep a map handy (usually available on the airport’s website) of where these pumping stations are located.
• Confirm that the hotel she’s staying at provides an in-room refrigerator for storing breast milk. It is also a good idea to consider booking a hotel close to the work location so the employee has the option of returning to their room to pump as needed.
Keep in mind that an appropriate lactation space is clean, comfortable and private. A bathroom is generally not an appropriate replacement for a lactation room (one exception being separate lactation facilities within the women’s lounge, as long as they are private and are separated from any toilets). At a minimum, the lactation space should include:
• A reliable place to store pumped milk. Ideally this would be a mini fridge in the lactation room that is only used by pumping mothers. However, it can also be a refrigerator in the breakroom, as long as the employee can easily access it and is not in danger of her milk being thrown away.
• Outlets for plugging in pumping equipment.
• A comfortable chair for the employee to sit in while pumping.
• Climate control; including proper ventilation and a temperature comparable to that of the rest of the building.
• Privacy considerations, including a door that locks from the inside and blackout curtains over any windows.
As more nursing mothers in the workforce are traveling for business and as laws providing accommodations for nursing mothers are expanding, now is a great time for businesses to seek ways they can assist nursing employees and implement best practices for supporting parents in the workplace.
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