Pumping at Work: What Are Your Rights in the Workplace - Baby Chick
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Pumping at Work: What Are Your Rights in the Workplace

Learn about federal breastfeeding protections in place for women, what the exceptions are, and whether state laws provide protection as well.

Published March 20, 2020

According to an American Academy of Pediatrics study, over 85% of mothers choose to breastfeed, but more than half stop short of their intended duration.1 Widespread lack of parental leave and workplace support are among the primary obstacles that prevent new moms from reaching their goals.5 Over a decade has passed since the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require that employers provide the necessary break time and space required to express breast milk.2 However, these challenges persist for many women who are pumping at work.

Ideally, expectant mothers would know their rights before taking maternity leave. However, that’s not always the case. So, it’s important to tackle these conversations with Human Resources before taking leave. This ensures both sides have communicated and set clear expectations. It also gives employers more time to prepare for your return. In addition, informed communication can greatly improve the likelihood of a successful pumping journey in the workplace! To better prepare you, let’s further explore your breastfeeding rights at work.

What Are the Primary Breastfeeding Protections in Place for Working Moms?

Employers must provide a dedicated place to pump, other than a bathroom. It must be somewhere that’s private and doesn’t put moms in view of their coworkers.7,8 The dedicated space can be temporary as long as it meets that criteria.8 Employers must also allow pumping breaks.7,8 However, the mother doesn’t have to receive pay for these breaks, unless the company doesn’t completely relieve her of her work duties for that time.8 In other words, if your company expects you to respond to emails while pumping at work, the clock shouldn’t stop!

The frequency and duration of breaks can vary based on the company’s flexibility in schedule and the mother’s specific needs.8 Typically, the mom will need to pump as often as her baby eats to maintain her milk supply. In many cases, that means pumping two to three times per day.9 These accommodations should be made for up to one year.7 (Read here for more detailed information on federal and state laws pertaining to breastfeeding at work.)


It’s important to note that there are some exceptions. For instance, companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempted if they can prove it would cause them “undue hardship.”8 Because the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law falls under FLSA’s overtime section, it only applies to nonexempt employees. This means it covers most hourly workers but not salaried workers.6 If you’re unsure about whether FLSA covers you, ask your supervisor or someone in Human Resources. Many companies choose to provide these accommodations even if FLSA doesn’t cover you. And many are open to having a conversation about how best to support working mothers.

State Laws May Provide Even More Protection

Additionally, the FLSA requirements don’t override state laws that provide greater employee benefits and protections.8 Therefore, even if FLSA doesn’t cover you, your company may still have to provide certain accommodations in accordance with state laws.6

In 1993, Florida was the first state to legalize breastfeeding in public.3 Today, every state has laws establishing a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. 30 states have also elected to create laws that pertain to the workplace. And over a third of states take breastfeeding into consideration in regard to jury duty requirements.10 (You can learn about state laws specific to breastfeeding at work here.)

Pumping at Work: The Bottom Line

Regardless of the federal and state laws in place, employees and employers must continue working together to support their breastfeeding coworkers better. Breast milk helps protect babies from various illnesses, such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDs), asthma, ear infections, and lower respiratory infections.11,12 In addition, breastfeeding moms heal quicker from pregnancy and childbirth.13 They also have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.11

There’s also an economic case to be made for providing these accommodations.4 For example, companies that support pumping moms see lower turnover rates, fewer missed days of work, and decreased healthcare costs.14 Plus, employee loyalty and job satisfaction translate to increased engagement and productivity! So, make sure to do your research and talk to your Human Resources department before taking maternity leave. This will help you know your rights, advocate for yourself, and receive the accommodations you need.

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  • Author

Jennifer Jordan is the Director of Mom & Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare. A working and once-breastfeeding mom, Jennifer - along with her team - is committed to supporting all moms… Read more

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