31 Mar Protected Workplace Rights for Breastfeeding Women
Hey Mamas! Did you know that April 28th is a designated day to heighten awareness about workplace safety and health? For breastfeeding mothers who are returning to their workplace, this is an important issue.
Long separations from your baby during work hours can affect breast milk production, even with the most diligent of pumping schedules and high quality breast pumps. But, challenges with employers to provide necessary breaks to express breastmilk, as well as less than desirable breastfeeding locations (say no to the bathroom!), can add significant stress to your postpartum body. The added stress can compromise your breastmilk supply and unintentionally shorten the period of time that you exclusively breastfeed your baby.
This is why it’s important to know your protected rights about breastfeeding in the workplace.
What Does the Law Say about Pumping at Work?
In the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide reasonable breaks to employees to express breastmilk for their child up to one year after birth. Reasonable breaks means when the employee has the need to express breastmilk.³ For a mother with a very young infant, this can mean taking a break every 2-3 hours for 20-30 minutes each time.
The FLSA also requires employers to provide a space, other than the bathroom, for an employee to express breastmilk. This place must be private and shielded from view of the public and intrusion from other employees.³
The FLSA does not require employers to provide paid break time, but some State laws do require this so you’ll want to check out your State’s specific laws on expressing breastmilk in the workplace. There are some interesting differences, such as some States that allow mothers to bring their infants to work up to the age of 6 months.
Keep in mind, too, that FLSA federally protected rights only apply to employers with 50 or more employees. There are some recent initiatives to change this however, as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a new bill in October 2021 to include smaller businesses under this federal regulation. The bill also included employees that were previously excluded from federal protection, such as farm workers, transportation workers and teachers.³
Exclusive Breastfeeding for the First 6 Months
Knowing your protected workplace rights arms you with the knowledge to educate others, which sometimes may be your employer! You can do this in a non-confrontational way by simply providing unbiased information (fact sheet) about FLSA from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) has also outlined a Healthy People 2030 initiative to promote exclusive breastfeeding for infants until the age of 6 months and long term breastfeeding for up to a 1 year.
This is because breastfeeding benefits babies and children so greatly. The antibodies in breastmilk protect infants from bacteria and viruses. Children who are breastfed have a decreased number of ear infections, lung problems, and urinary tract infections. They have fewer incidences of diarrhea and are hospitalized less often.
Breastfeeding benefits extend to mothers as well, helping women return to prepregnancy weight (reducing obesity and the risk of chronic health problems that come along with this). Breastfeeding reduces women’s risk of breast cancer before menopause, as well as osteporosis (bone weakness).
If your goal is to breastfeed your baby for the first 6-12 months, know that federally protected rights for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace do exist. Read up on the facts, invest in a high quality breast pump, and better yet, ask if you can bring your infant to work. Even if the answer is a hard “no,” just starting the dialogue and getting employers thinking about what is best for employee health is a first step to creating family friendly workplaces.
- Centers for Disease Control. August 24, 2021. Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/facts.html
- Centers for Disease Control. Support for breastfeeding in the workplace. Retrieved March 13, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/strategy5-support-breastfeeding_workplace.pdf
- U.S Department of Labor. Break time for nursing mothers. Retrieved March 13, 2022 from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/nursing-mothers#:~:text=Federal%20law%20requires%20employers%20to,Section%207%20of%20the%20FLSA).