Weary breastfeeding, working moms: You’ve got this, and now the Federal Government has your back

By Lisa Myers


Lisa holding her daughter in a hallway in their home

I'm the Founding Mama of Ceres Chill, with my daughter

Lisa Myers piuctured weariung court attire when she was litigating a case

… and my background is in law, so you know I love taking apart this stuff!

As a mom who made it through two scary pregnancy announcements to my bosses and two really challenging returns to work after maternity leave, I know the struggle. 

I’ve pumped in many “interesting” spaces at work, dealt with many uncomfortable conversations about “my priorities” and definitely felt there was no way I could survive, let alone be successful, as a mom and employee. I’ve been there and won’t ever forget the loneliness and hopelessness. But I actually managed to not die, get fired or sue my employers. In fact, I was promoted while also managing to keep both my kids alive. 

None of it was easy, but please know I'm not special. You can totally do this, and I want to share three bits of advice from my life as a pumping mom, litigator and negotiator that I am confident will help you get to where you want to be. 

Setting the Stage ...

I worked with pretty much all men for my entire professional life — on a farm, in politics and as a lawyer. I am now a founder and CEO surrounded by more businessmen. Over the years, some of these guys were overtly sexist and actively worked to undermine me. Some were more subtly influenced by their unconscious bias and ideals dictating that good women were either low-level secretaries or barefoot in someone's kitchen.  There were also a lot of great men and women that encouraged me and pushed me forward when I had no idea how to keep going.  

By working hard and constantly proving myself as someone who put work first early on, I was accepted into a department at my firm that required a lot of travel and a tough cowboy spirit as a courtroom litigator. At the time, there were no women lawyers in that department in my office.  

"During my interview for the position, I was told in very plain terms that women did not succeed in the department I hoped to join, not because women couldn't succeed of course (saying that would be hurtful and legally actionable), but because women are often the main caregivers to children so... travel and courtroom life were a 'bad fit'. Upon hearing this, I made sure the hiring partners knew that I did not have a husband or plans to have kids any time soon. It worked. I made it in. Yay?"

Fast forward a couple years — I married, had my first child, and I was told by the head of my department that I was clearly on the “Mommy track,” as opposed to the “Partner track,” which was a very plain way of saying I had opted out of advancing in my firm by getting knocked up. Despite all of this nonsense, I continued to be exceptionally profitable, excel professionally, become one of the first women to be elevated to a high level partner in that department AND do an okay job as a mom.   

I will say that none of what I experienced was special or unique to me. Most women face these challenges and many have it much harder. Pervasive bias, 12+ hour shift work, depression, sexism, no reliable childcare … yet mothers don't stop showing up for their families, themselves and their companies. How did we do it? How will you do it?


Prepare yourself and accept that you are going to encounter seemingly insurmountable obstacles as a mom and as a woman with a young child returning to work. You will almost certainly have doubts about whether you can actually be the parent you want to be and the professional you were. It will likely feel profoundly lonely. Coworkers may be irritated and jealous of your “special treatment/vacation aka maternity leave” or they’ll just be incredibly clueless. It won’t be easy (especially working off almost no sleep and with no idea what you’re doing initially). But you can absolutely make the important things happen for yourself … and your baby. The good and bad news is that the answers and power to make this happen are all within you.  

PS: you might want to invest in a good stress ball for the following scenarios:

  • Every time someone asks you how your vacation was after you return from maternity leave (HA!)
  • Every time someone says you look tired
  • Every time someone asks "when do you think you'll get back to your old self?"
  • Every time someone asks if you miss your baby
  • Every time you pump in a supply closet or miss a pump session because a meeting went long
  • Every time someone asks if you want more kids or if you're pregnant again already
  • Every time you aren't invited to the big strategy meetings because you have been counted out or you can't attend the happy hours where all the real decisions are getting made
  • and many more...


You need to know that you have what you need within yourself to be a good mom as well as a successful person. That sounds awfully fluffy and probably exhausting, but it’s the absolute truth. 

I feel I need to state the obvious here: Many, many women have it really hard. Women suffering from postpartum depression. Women of color. Single mothers. Parents without safe or affordable childcare. Women in dangerous jobs. Women engaged in long shift work. Women surrounded by no one who understands the challenges of being a new parent. Soldiers stationed far from their families. Medical professionals working 12+ hours in hospitals.  Officers out on the streets in law enforcement, so many women sacrificing themselves in service of their families and communities ...there's honestly no end to this list.

Even without those exceptional circumstances, early sleep deprivation and trying to survive with this new baby takes a toll. Just trying to string a grown-up sentence together could almost reduce me to tears in those early days. 

All of that said, I became stronger and more focused as a mother. My world narrowed to what I needed for the survival of my baby and myself. Someone’s petty gripes, completely unreasonable demands or fashion woes became seriously pathetic and irrelevant. Keeping yourself and a small person alive is a strong motivator that helped to crystalize what I needed to do each day. 

Because you have made it this far, I know with absolute certainty that you have what it takes to see this through for yourself and your family.  

You need to know that you have what you need within yourself to be a good mom as well as a successful person. That sounds awfully fluffy and probably exhausting, but it’s the absolute truth. 



You must confront head-on that YOU need to make all of the important things happen for yourself, because pretty much no one else around you will know what you need, nor will they be able (or willing) to advocate for you.


You are not *entirely* alone. Women with children are the fastest-growing segment of the US workforce. Over half of new moms return to work after having a baby, and 80% of all new mothers breastfeed. The world and industry are better when we as mothers can fully participate and are supported. 

The Federal government of the United States of America recently acknowledged your right to breastfeed and created protections with The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act. The bill, which is designed to correct mistakes and loopholes in the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act, extended workplace protections to an additional 9 million nursing parents in April of 2023. There are resources and advocates (see helpful links at the bottom of this blog) to help ensure you have the necessary time, clean space and support reasonably required for you to pump milk for your baby.

The other good news is that YOU made it this far. YOU managed to overcome significant obstacles to women in the workplace. YOU managed to start a family. YOU created a baby and made it through labor and possibly major surgery to bring that baby into this world. YOU took on the challenge of breastfeeding a baby when neither of you had ever done anything like that before. YOU are learning more every day about what you need to be successful as a person and a parent.

The (new and improved) PUMP Act 

The PUMP Act expands on the very limited protections offered under previous laws as well as eliminates large loopholes employers used to avoid their responsibilities to pumping parents.  

As of April 2023, nearly all workers (except for gig and contract workers, airline pilots, and flight attendants - not fair but apparently meaningful change must be incremental) are covered. The law also clarifies that employees must be compensated for their pump breaks if the employer provides paid breaks to other employees. It emphasizes that time spent expressing breastmilk should be considered work hours (and definitely not breaks!) if the employee is not completely relieved of duties during the entire break (i.e. you still send emails, answer calls, respond to coworker/customer requests, pack orders...engage in any other job-related tasks). 

The PUMP Act also provides parents with options for legal action. Now employers not only have a governmentally regulated obligation to support your breastfeeding efforts, YOU also have the opportunity and legal right to enforce your breastfeeding rights through federal agencies and the courts. However, you must keep in mind that litigation is definitely the nuclear option. Although the legislation says that you are legally protected from retaliation and should not be fired for claiming your employer failed to adhere to the PUMP Act, suing your employer can make your professional career difficult or impossible, depending on your job and the size of your employment community.

Under the PUMP Act, employers with less than 50 employees are still covered by the law and must provide break time and space; however, they may be excused from complying when providing the required break time and space would impose a significant difficulty or expense (called an “undue hardship”). Undue hardship is treated under the new Act as extremely rare. In almost all situations, employers with fewer than 50 employees must provide the required break time and space. 


As usual, the devil is in the details. For up to one year following the birth of a child, employers are required to provide:

1. A "reasonable" amount of break time, and

2. A "clean", "private" space for lactating workers to express milk. 

What is “reasonable” is up to interpretation and what is clean and what "private" can also get a little interesting. Heck, let's face it the word "space" can mean a lot of different things to different people. 

Before you are in the thick of it as a working mom, it is hard to know for sure what you will need but a typical pump schedule will require you to pump for at least 20-30 mins every 3 hours. Of course, that will change (increase and then decrease) as your baby grows and then graduates to solid foods. It's important to have an honest conversation with your employer and explain your scheduling needs so you can maintain your supply.

As far as the "space" provided for pumping, it doesn't have to be complicated - it can be as simple and easy to put together as an area with a curtain/divider that is "shielded from view and free from intrusion". 

PLEASE NOTE: Any lactation spaces must be free from cameras, and away from windows, according to the law. The pumping space cannot be a bathroom. A bathroom space is not a sanitary space to prepare food. It's uncomfortable, not conducive to work, and oftentimes, does not have a good source of power for pumps. Ideally, your pump space should have a power outlet, a mirror, a comfortable chair, a sink and some sort of refrigeration option.


Personal example of an unacceptable accommodation that drove me to bring about some serious change: a random, freezing, cramped up storage closet...throwback to these days, before the Chiller existed!


Your employer probably does not know his/her obligations under the law.  Your employer also probably sees your parental leave and pumping as a major burden on the company's performance and maybe even the other employees' morale.  

All of that said, there are great resources to help educate your employer about how they can help you and how that benefits everyone, including the company, other employees and you. I also feel it is important to remind you that YOU know, almost better than anyone, what you need to be successful in your job and to safely and effectively get the milk the heck out of your body and into a container to help keep your baby alive.    

"Before you go into a meeting with your employer about your pumping needs, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the ways in which businesses are more successful when they comply with the PUMP Act and support employees who are also parents. Offering a safe place to pump and regular breaks does not have to be expensive, and all the medical research in the world clearly indicates that employees are healthier when parents can breastfeed their babies. "

Published studies also show us that parents are less stressed and less likely to be absent because they, or their child, is sick with a cold, flu, or other illness. Having policies that support working parents in meeting their goals as professionals *and* pumping parents allows employers attract and keep the best employees for the job.  

Start the conversation

Complying with the PUMP Act is in the best interest of both the employer and the employee, but making these changes can feel overwhelming on both ends. How do you approach the conversation? Where do you start? Here are some important first steps:

  • Find a time, place and method of meeting (video call, in-person or phone call) that works for you and your employer or supervisor to share this information. You may not love in-person confrontation and I am an introvert, but often looking each other in the eye and being able to read body language during a hard conversation like this is really key. If possible, try to find a way to meet in-person. 
  • Learn about what your employer’s concerns might be and whether they understand their obligations and your needs.
  • Set expectations about what you believe you will need and how hard you plan to work to continue participating as an important part of the company.  
  • Consider everything from your employer or supervisor’s perspective. Speak very directly with your employer about the ways you will support their goals for the company and the tools you need to be successful.  
  • Be prepared to share with your supervisor what you believe to be the most affordable and supportive ways to comply with the governmental requirements and your needs. Maybe they are just totally overwhelmed or confused by the logistics - I think we all are at the beginning! 
  • Use the meeting to outline what you look forward to achieving in the year ahead as well as what you will need to be successful.  

Below is an example of a mom’s email to her employer, where she advocated for what she needed and filled them in on the details of her return. It’s important to note that every situation is different, and what works for her might not be work for you. The schedule that she outlined in her email was the one she preferred, and the pump space (a large closet), was one that she’s comfortable with. Your comfortability is the priority, so be sure to discuss a proper schedule and space that works for you

Hello *name of employer*, 

I’m preparing for and looking forward to my return to work on December 18th. I wanted to inform you that I am breastfeeding my son and plan to do so upon my return, therefore I will be pumping at work. I have spoken with my son’s pediatrician and my lactation consultant regarding this and they have advised the best plan for both my son’s health as well as my health. Per their recommendations so that I can continue to successfully feed my son, I will be pumping at least twice a day while at work. I have taken a look at the master schedule and noted my specific schedule. Based on what we know about my current break needs and the existing staff schedule, I can make my pump schedule work to fit during both my prep and lunch periods. I plan to pump at 9:00am (during my 8:45-9:30 prep) and 12:00pm (during my 11:45-12:30 lunch).  Please note that my required breaks may increase or decrease over the course of the year. I will give you as much advanced notice as possible if there is any change.  

There are three main points we should clarify in advance of my return. The first is covering classes. I know that we are a team at *place of employment* and we all cover. Although this will present a challenge for my pump schedule, I believe we can work together to accommodate my pumping on the days that I end up covering. My plan on days that you need me to cover is to pump on either side of my prep period. Please be aware that this means I will be unavailable for about 20 minutes either before or after my prep period on days that I cover a class. 

The next clarification I’d like to address is walkie talkie language while I am pumping. If I am called on the walkie and I am unavailable because I am actively pumping, what language are you comfortable with me using to communicate that? 

The final clarification I’d like to address is my pumping location. Since *co-worker name* and I will be sharing a space this year, I have been in communication with her regarding the fact that I will be pumping when I return to work. She informed me that there is a closet in our space that is available for me to use. Although the closet does not appear to meet the minimum recommended federal PUMP Act standards, I am willing to make this location work.  Please assist in this effort by providing a table, chair, light and access to electrical power. 

I appreciate the opportunity to work with you to ensure that 2023-2024 is a huge success for our team and our students. I look forward to seeing you all on the 18th!

Affordable ways employers can support employees

A comfortable pump space doesn't have to be huge. It should have at least one outlet, a chair, a table, a window (with curtains for privacy), a door with a lock (add a privacy sign as a bonus), access to running water and safe breastmilk storage. You can use an old office space, empty room or temporary, rental "pod" structure designed to support lactating parents. Companies like PumpSpotting and Mamava are excellent resources.  


Okay, so maybe you've done everything right. You've shown up as an amazing person, you've given your boss and your team everything they need to support you as an employee and mother, and they're still undermining you. If there is no hope in being a mom and successful in your current job, you may need to look for another job and consider suing under the PUMP Act. 

Under the PUMP Act, you can either file a complaint with the Department of Labor or file a lawsuit against your employer. If your employer has failed to meet the PUMP Act requirements, you are entitled to “meaningful remedies,” which may include lost wages, attorney fees or punitive damages for emotional distress or health complications related to your inability to pump.

Please know that this is not an easy option. If you win, which could be very hard, you could be compensated for lost wages and attorney fees (unfortunately, punitive damages are highly unlikely).  However, even if you win, it will likely be hard to return to your place of work or find a job in a very small business community. Under the law, your employer can't retaliate against you, but here's the hard part: Who wants to work in a place where they can't fire you but everyone around you at work shuns and resents you?

From A Better Balance: If an employer refuses to comply with the law, employees can take action in a number of ways: 
  • Employees can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) by calling the toll-free number 1-800-487-9243 or by visiting dol.gov/whd. An employee will then be directed to the nearest WHD office for assistance, and WHD will investigate. It is illegal for an employer to fire or discriminate against an employee for filing a complaint. 

  • Employees may also contact the free helplines from A Better Balance and/or the Center for WorkLife Law for assistance in understanding their legal rights and options. (Helpline support is available in English and Spanish, with other languages on request.) 

  • A lawsuit can be filed right away in the following three circumstances: For violations of the break time requirement; if the employer has indicated it has no intention of providing private space for pumping; if an employee has been fired for requesting break time or space. 

It's important to be aware that to be allowed to file a lawsuit for a violation of the lactation space requirement, an employee must notify their employer that an adequate space has not been provided. Employees must do this 10 or more days before filing a lawsuit in court. Informing an employer that the lactation space is not adequate may give the employer an opportunity to provide what is needed. 

Help understanding or enforcing the law: A Better Balance and Center for WorkLife Law are nonprofit organizations that host free and confidential legal helplines where an employee can get answers to their questions: 

Contact A Better Balance by calling 1-833-NEED-ABB or using the online form. Contact the Center for WorkLife Law helpline by emailing hotline@worklifelaw.org or calling (415) 703-8276.


We all do better, and maybe feel a little less lonely, when we lift each other up and help each other out. 

Let's all be mindful of pumping moms in the workplace (whether it's you, your employee, your partner or a colleague), and do what we can to support them. Our workforce will be stronger and our communities healthier when men, women, employers and employees support each other as new parents — especially when those new parents are pumping moms. The PUMP Act is a start, but we have more work to do.  

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