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Balancing Work and Breastfeeding: What New Mothers Should Know About Their Rights

April 20, 2017 Pregnancy Discrimination

Federal law offers some protection for expressing breastmilk

As a father of four small children, I have a lot of empathy for nursing mothers who plan to return to work. In fact, I’ve seen my wife tackle this challenge four times. Thankfully, her employer has always been supportive of her need to express breast milk during the work day.

Unfortunately though, many female employees still face uphill battles when they return to work. Resistance from employers may make some new moms feel forced to abandon breastfeeding before they’re ready. Some women have even sued their employers, claiming that they suffered through painful infections as a result of not being able to maintain their pumping schedules.

So what are nursing mother’s legal rights on the job? Let’s take a look.

Legal Breaks for Some Women, But Not All

There is legal protection for expressing breast milk on the job, however, that protection has some significant limitations.

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as Obamacare) amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide break time for some nursing mothers to express breast milk while at work.

That’s right, only some employees – namely, non-exempt workers – are legally entitled to break time to pump breast milk. (We’ll talk about exempt workers in a minute.)

The FLSA requires that non-exempt employees may take breaks to express breast milk for up to a year after a child’s birth. Because nursing schedules vary widely, mothers must be allowed to take breaks whenever they deem them necessary.

Eligible women must be provided with a private location other than a restroom for these breaks. The area must be private and free from intrusion by other workers or customers. The location must be available for the woman every time she needs to use it.

In other words, a conference room that is in frequent use may not be an acceptable location.

It’s also important to note that nursing breaks do not need to be compensated. However, if an employee uses a break that would normally be compensated for the purpose of expressing breast milk, then she must be compensated for that break.

So if a woman would normally take a coffee break or rest break without having to clock out, she similarly would not need to clock out to express breast milk during that time.

Do Exempt Workers Having Breastfeeding Rights?

What about salaried employees? Are they out of luck?

Not entirely.

While exempt employees are not specifically granted protection under the FLSA’s provisions for nursing mothers, they may qualify for other kinds of protection.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) states that women who are lactating must be given the same freedom to address their needs as would any other employee who is experiencing a non-incapacitating medical condition.

For example, if an employee would normally be allowed to modify his or her schedule to attend to medical treatments, then nursing mothers at the same company should be granted the same consideration.

State and local laws may offer additional protection for nursing mothers as well. For example, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the City of Philadelphia have laws in place prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.

Call Us for a Free Consultation

As this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor shows, issues surrounding expressing breast milk at work can be complicated.

If you believe your employer hasn’t honored your rights to attend to your nursing needs, you should speak to an attorney to find out about potential legal remedies that may be available to you.

Email us at, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.