The health care reform bill (officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) includes breastfeeding promotion provisions that require employers (with a few exceptions) to accommodate breastfeeding employees. These provisions, considered an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), became law on March 23, 2010.
Leading health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for a full six months, and continued breastfeeding for at least one year, but maternity leave typically ends at (or before) 12 weeks in the United States. This legislation recognizes that a mother’s ability to express her milk at work is a necessity for breastfeeding mothers who must balance their own need to re-enter the workforce with caring for their babies. While pumping at work doesn't take a lot of time (perhaps as little as 10-15 minutes every 2-3 hours), it's important to pump at regularly scheduled times for maintaining milk supply.
According to the relevant portion of the bill:
- Employers must ensure that women in the workforce have access to the time and space they need to express their milk for their babies.
- This must be provided for one year after the child’s birth.
- The place employers provide must not be a bathroom. It must be shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers and the public.
- Employers are not required to pay their employees for the time they spend expressing their milk.
- Employers with fewer than 50 workers are exempt from these requirements if they would pose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the business.
These provisions do not preempt state laws from providing more protection for breastfeeding workers so it may be a good idea to check with your state labor department too.
As soon as possible, talk with your supervisor and co-workers about your plans to breastfeed, so that they can be supportive and won’t feel inconvenienced by the need to accommodate you upon your return. The Business Case for Breastfeeding may prove to be a useful resource as you have these discussions, especially the Employees' Guide. If your employer is willing to add a lactation room (sometimes called a “wellness room”) to accommodate your need for a private space to pump your milk, be sure to identify the “must haves” for this room. Joyce Lee, in a piece for the Green Building Initiative Gateway, recommends a space at least 7-foot by 7-foot in size, with a locking door, a work surface, a chair, an outlet, access to a sink, and a mechanism for scheduling to use the room. This plan may be modified if it is to accommodate more than one mother at a time.
Additional resources include: Support for Breastfeeding in the Workplace from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Find an IBCLC Directory from the United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA).