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Know your rights: A breastfeeding mom's guide to pumping at work

Moms who breastfeed at work may have more protection than they realize.
/ Source: TODAY

When Tabetha Tyndale started a new job last year, she informed them she was still breastfeeding her 10-month-old son and wondered if there would be a place for her to pump during work. Her manager said they’d find a spot for her. But when Tyndale started, there was no designated place to pump privately.

“We went from room to room seeing if people were out of the office so I could pump,” Tyndale, 30, a nurse from Staten Island, New York, told TODAY Parents. “She would just throw me in someone’s office.”

breastfeeding at work 101
Tabetha Tyndale wanted to breastfeed son Malachi until he was 2 but her workplace didn't provide anywhere for her to pump privately and she eventually had to stop. Courtesy Tabetha Tyndale

When she moved to a satellite office with open cubicles, the bathroom was the only room with a door. Sometimes she pumped at her desk, covered in a shawl, or pumped in her car.

She even tried not breastfeeding until she got home until she developed mastitis, inflamed and infected breast tissue. It eventually became so painful she stopped breastfeeding son Malachi, just after his first birthday.

“I didn’t want to be a hassle,” she said. “I wanted to feed my son and work.”

Soon after, Tyndale was fired. Her employer said it was for unsatisfactory work, but she said her manager never mentioned problems. She filed an EEOC claim, which did not result in further action, so she sued. She is waiting to hear whether the company will be settling out of court. Tyndale's sharing her story to help women understand that they can pump privately at work.

"So many women are unaware of their rights as women and sometimes suffer in silence," she said.

Pumping at work can be challenging for many. In February, a sign at a dollar store went viral. It read: “Sorry had to pump for baby and no 1 else is here. Be back in 20 minutes.”

At the time, the Family Dollar assistant manager who posted the sign shared her story with TODAY:

“I realized that my manager wasn’t going to try to bring a second person in. I called HR corporate to report the issue, and see if they would offer a resolution. They apologized ‘for the inconvenience’ and then went on to tell me to run back and forth every couple of minutes to pump in between customers,” Emily Margaret Edgington said.

The mom of two felt she had to do what was best for her daughter.

"My daughter’s health and being able to eat was my main concern. I wrote the sign, took a picture to show my manager, prayed to God that I wouldn’t get fired or written up for it, and stuck it up on the doors," she said.

Family Dollar provided TODAY a statement that said: "We do have company policies and procedures in place that meet all state and federal laws in regard to associate breaks, including those for nursing mothers."

There are federal and state laws that protect women who need to pump at work.

“The protection is part of the Affordable Care Act, which went into effect in 2010, which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, and required employers give women a reasonable break period in order to express milk,” Paula Brantner, senior advisor at Workplace Fairness, told TODAY.

What’s more, employers need to provide a place for women to pump that isn’t a bathroom stall. That room needs to be one where people can't see the women pumping and prevents others from intruding.

Brantner said employers need to consider pumping breaks like any other break. If they pay employees for lunch breaks, then employers should pay them for pumping. If they do not pay for breaks, they will not pay for pumping.

“It has to be treated the same,” Brantner said.

There are exceptions for workplaces with fewer than 50 employees but the employer must show that allowing employees to pump is an “undue hardship.” Though, Brantner urges such companies to talk with a lawyer to be clear about the laws.

In most cases, employers cannot fire women for pumping during work.

“Being fired on that bias would be sex discrimination and a violation of the law,” Brantner said.