Expressing Breast Milk at Work

Health experts agree that breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of life—and continuing to breastfeed for the first year and beyond—is the healthiest option for both mother and baby. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk of serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer, and the lower the child’s risk of infections, obesity, diabetes, and other health conditions.

But while nearly 75% of new mothers start off nursing their newborns, breastfeeding rates drop precipitously in the first 6–12 months. One of the most common reasons women give for abandoning breastfeeding is that their return to work poses major challenges, especially when an employer is not supportive of the need for time to express milk regularly during the work day (every 3 hours or so) in a clean, private space.

The good news is that one section of the Health Care Reform bill signed by President Obama addresses the issue, offering support to new mothers across the country who wish to continue breastfeeding their babies after returning to work.

The “Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law includes 2 key provisions

  1. Employers must allow breastfeeding mothers unpaid break time for expressing milk during the workday until the child’s first birthday.
  2. Employers must provide a private, non-bathroom location for expressing milk that is shielded from view and free from the intrusion of coworkers.

Because this legislation is an amendment to the nation’s minimum wage and overtime laws, it covers only nonexempt (hourly) workers. However, many salaried workers are in professional or managerial positions and are usually entitled to accommodations for nursing mothers under company policy.

The new federal law covers all employers of hourly workers (although companies with fewer than 50 employees don’t have to comply if they can show that doing so would cause undue financial or other hardship). In the 24 states that have existing legislation related to breastfeeding at the workplace, state laws that offer stronger protections will take precedence over the federal legislation.

See also ...

•  Finding Workplace Support: Tips for Breastfeeding Moms 

•  Support for Breastfeeding Is on the Rise 

This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.

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