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To-wen Tseng's picture
gisele-breastfeeding (c) Gisele Bündchen Instagram

There has been lots of discussion about supermodel Gisele's breastfeeding photo. I'm thrilled that she is nursing her 1-year-old. I also envy her for being lucky to have such understanding colleagues that she could multi-task like that.

For many mothers, it's not possible to have their baby with them on the job and even asking for a reasonable time and/or space to pump at work is a challenge. I used to work for a company where I had to pump in the restroom and was harassed by my colleagues for washing pump accessories in the office kitchen. The fight for my right to breastfeed was long and exhausting, and the situation eventually resulted in my resignation.

Just a while ago I was invited to a KAZN talk show to talk about my breastfeeding experience, and the most important thing I wanted to tell my fellow breastfeeding mothers was "know your rights."

You can't exercise your rights if you don't know what they are. Federal law requires any employer with 50 or more employees to provide employees with reasonable time and space for nursing. Some states, like California, even require all the employers to do this.

Most employers are happy to provide the support that you need, as long as they know how important it is for you to have their support. If your company does not have a breastfeeding support program (like my previous company), it could be that nobody has ever asked for one. As a breastfeeding mother, it is important that you be the one who asks for it! 

If the supervisor doesn't understand how important it is for you to breastfeed, explain to him or her that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for you and your baby. You can even have an expert from your local breastfeeding organization to talk to your supervisor. Just contact your local breastfeeding support group or state breastfeeding coalition and they would be happy to help.

Your supervisor may not know what you need to continue breastfeeding. Let him or her know your basic needs to express milk is simply a private location and some flexible breaks. If your supervisor tells you that the company has no space for a pumping area, you can look around, find space that you are willing to use, and make the proposal. If your supervisor tells you that other colleagues would complain, you can invite lactation professionals to your company and have a seminar about the benefits of breastfeeding to mother and baby's health so that your colleagues can learn. If your supervisor tells you that they don't want to do this just for one person, you can remind him that supporting breastfeeding is actually beneficial to the company.

And supporting breastfeeding does benefit the company. Employees receive support for breastfeeding are happier and more productive. They are less likely to miss work to take care of sick babies because breastfed babies are healthier. Breastfeeding also helps lower the company's health care cost since both the mom and the baby are healthier.

If you do get the support you need, remember to show appreciation to your supervisor and colleagues. If all fails, you can still file a complaint with the Department of Labor to fight against the hostile working environment. Call1-866-487-9243 or visit You can also file a complaint with the state government, depending on the state you're living in.

If you prefer, you may want to hire an attorney directly. Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Center can help.

Approaching to your supervisor and asking for time and space to pump can be a little bit scary, and sometimes things might not work out as you wish, but don't be discouraged. For as a breastfeeding mother, you are powerful and influential. I have never been a very brave person in my whole life, but I fought with all my strength for my right to breastfeed. After leaving my previous job I've been volunteering with local breastfeeding organizations, and talked in public and on media about breastfeeding issues. I never thought that I were able to do all of these. And you can do it, too.

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