Enabling Breastfeeding: Lactation in the Workplace

Written by: Jess Kimball

Breastfeeding has many proven health benefits, making breastfeeding and pumping access in the workplace a public health priority. Over the past few years, lactation accommodation laws have improved and become more specific, but there is still a lot of advocacy to be done.

Federal law mandates that employers provide nursing parents with unpaid break time to express pumped milk for a year after the birth of their child. Law also requires employers to provide a private space, other than a bathroom, for any nursing employee. These initial requirements did not apply to employers that were not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act or companies with less than 50 employees. Under the FLSA, employers were not required to pay nonexempt employees for their lactation break time, except to the extent that they pay other workers for similar breaks.

President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act into law on December 29, 2022. The law includes the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (“PUMP Act”). The PUMP Act expands existing employer obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide an employee with reasonable break time to express breast milk for the employee’s nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. This act gives most nursing employees the right to everything the FSLA provided. It covers every type of employee except those at companies wither fewer than 50 employees. If a company has fewer than 50 employees they must prove that compliance with the PUMP Act would impose undue hardship before choosing to not implement it.

Many employers interpret the FSLA and PUMP Act in their own way. The PUMP Act closed some loopholes and removed some of the confusion around what is actually required of employers. It is best practice that the room includes a chair, table or counter, and an electrical outlet. The room should be sanitary. It is also recommended that easy access to a refrigerator is provided. Break times under the PUMP Act need to be reasonable, about 15-30 minutes. The PUMP Act clarifies that employers need to count the time a worker spends pumping toward minimum wage and overtime pay if the worker is at least partially working during a pumping break. There must also be enough space for the number of employees a company has. The National Institute of Health recommends about one space per 100 employees and two per 250 employees. This Act covers off-site work trips too. More information about PUMP can be found here.

If an employer is not complying with these laws then a complaint should be made. Complaints can be made at 1-866-487-9243. Workers can be reinstated to their jobs, promoted, or awarded monetary damages if they sue their employer for not complying with the PUMP Act.

Depending on the state, there may be laws that offer even more protection to employees that are nursing. Vermont offers three years of protection after the birth of a child and California requires that employers provide a fridge. It is important that employers, healthcare providers, advocates, and parents research the laws in the states they live and/or work in.

Return to work is one of the leading causes of early formula supplementation. Adopting more equitable and generous parental leave policies could lead to better health outcomes for parents and their babies. Parental leave has been proven to be an effective way to improve nursing outcomes and reduce the maternal mortality rate. Most maternal mortality deaths occur in the postpartum period. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of hemorrhage by contracting the uterus and helping release oxytocin in the body. It also leads to better health outcomes in infants.

Recommendations for healthcare providers, policymakers, employers, parents, and advocates can be found here.

At Global Foundation for Girls (GFG), we are active thought partners, serving global communities of birthing persons in order to advance and support the advocacy movement. We lead webinars and trainings for providers including doulas, social workers, childbirth educators, and more! To learn more about our upcoming trainings click here!

Jess Kimball, AS, CLC, Certified Birth and Postpartum Doula, PMH-C, Certified Infant Sleep Coach